China is a country with a rich culinary culture. Cooking oil is an essential ingredient in many delicious dishes. However, in China, the use of gutter oil has become a widespread practice in all types of restaurants. 

Sichuan hotpot usually contains a significant amount of oil as the base of the soup. However, it was discovered that Leiwei restaurant collected leftover oil from sold hotpots. They processed the material and reused it as a hotspot base to save costs.

According to Mestalk, four people, including the owners, were convicted of making and selling poisonous and harmful food. They were sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment ranging from five to ten years and six months by the Sichuan Santai Court on April 8. 

The use of ‘gutter oil’ in renowned as well as low-end restaurants has become a common practice in China

Daily-China Economic Net cited a criminal verdict issued by the People’s Court of Yuyang District on July 16, 2020. A franchise store in Yulin from the well-known hot pot brand Xiaolongkan used “gutter oil” to make hot pot ingredients. Around 2,000 kilograms of “gutter oil” had been sold to customers for two years.

According to Chinese media reports in 2018, Xiaolongkan’s three stores in Changchun, Harbin, and Nanchang were exposed to repeated use of “gutter oil.” 

From May 2018 to January 2019, the Gujinxia hotpot restaurant in Qianwei County, Sichuan, used waste oil to make hot pot ingredients. The owner, Lei, was sentenced to 7 years in prison and fined 7,500 dollars for participating in the “gutter oil” hotpot. The production staff was also jailed.

On November 17, 2017, Xiongjulin Chongqing Old Hotpot Restaurant in Bozhou District, Zunyi City, Guizhou, also used “gutter Oil.” The Zunyi city regulator discovered that the restaurant processed waste oil into edible oil. Then they added it to the hot pot soup for customers to eat. 

In March 2017, the local government arrested the owners of Chuanpu Chuanchuanxiang and Yaomei hotpot restaurants in Zhuji, Zhejiang, for using “gutter oil.”

In 2016, the Ruian Food Safety Office notified several hotpot restaurants in Chongqing were suspected of illegally using “gutter oil.” The police have taken compulsory criminal measures against 24 persons involved in the case.

According to the people.cn, Congressman Zhong Nanshan said China produced from 7 million to 14 million tons of gutter oil every year. Among them, 3.5 million tons are returned to the dining table. 

Collecting, processing, and using gutter oil: a chain of huge profits

Illegal operators gather waste cooking oil from sewage systems and restaurants. Then they sell it to underground manufacturers for $270 for every 0,450 grams.

The oil is then processed by the illegal companies and sold to intermediaries for $400 for every 0,450 grams. The intermediaries sell to the restaurants for around $530 every 0,450 grams. It’s still a lot less expensive than regular cooking oil, which costs approximately $800 for every 0,450 grams.

Using “gutter oil,” a large pot consumes about 0.590 grams of oil, and a small pot consumes about 0.400 grams. If a hot pot restaurant sells 30 tables per day, “gutter oil” can save more than 140 dollars per day.

According to a 2010 Xinhuanet report, in a gutter oil black workshop in Heituo Village, Taiyuan City, the average monthly income of each worker can reach about 900 dollars. In other surveys, some workers can earn more than 1,400 dollars per month, comparable to that of a senior white-collar worker.

Some restaurants even make their gutter oil to maximize their profit.

The industry insider revealed that over the years, Chongqing hot pot enterprises have developed a process called “gutter oil.” 

The oil of the hot pot recovered from the dining table is first filtered through a leaked screen to separate the oil residue, and then 200 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit temperature dry burning for oil-water separation. To better isolate the residues in the “gutter oil,” some businesses did perform high-temperature washing.

After the separation is completed, the spices are added to refine and then served on the table again. 

On December 1, 2020, the Public Security Management Brigade of Santai County conducted a surprise inspection of Leiwei Hotpot restaurant.

In the kitchen, the police then seized three grease buckets of oil.

After a sampling inspection, the local investigators concluded that it was unqualified. 

Liang Xsheng told investigators that the owners of the hot pot restaurant asked to make “gutter oil.” He said he collected the edible residual hot pot soup and kitchen waste daily from the table. He filters it into a grease barrel in the kitchen. Then he heated it three times to collect “gutter oil.”

The hot pot restaurant’s business statistics showed profits from using gutter oil. Since December 2018, the restaurant has sold nearly 50,000 hot pot pots containing “gutter oil.” The total amount involved was more than 340,000 dollars. 

Besides huge profits, there is another reason why restaurants join the chain

The manager of a hot pot restaurant in Chongqing City’s Yubei District told Xinhua News Agency reporters about ways to dispose of used oil. 

His restaurant disposed 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms of used oil per month. There are two ways to resolve used oil. 

First, he can sell used oil to a small workshop for about 1.2 dollars per kilo. He can earn around 4,000 dollars per month.

Second, he can send used oil to a company certified by the environmental protection department to recycle it. In this case, he has to pay a disposal fee for this company.

He complained, “Who would like this?” 

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