Taiwan gutter oil scandal spreads to Hong Kong

Taiwan gutter oil scandal spreads to Hong Kong

HONG KONG - Pineapple buns and dumplings have been pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong as authorities investigate whether they contain gutter oil from Taiwan, where concerns are growing over a food safety scare, officials said Monday.

An investigation has been launched after oil from a Taiwanese company accused of using illegally recycled products - including fat collected from grease traps - was exported to the southern Chinese city.

Taiwanese authorities say a factory in the south of the island illegally used 243 tonnes of tainted products, often referred to as "gutter oil", to mix into lard oil in a case that has reignited regional concerns about food safety standards.

The lard oil - a clear oil pressed from pig fat - was supplied to at least 900 restaurants and bakeries in Taiwan. The owner of the factory was arrested Sunday.

The scare has now spread to Hong Kong, with local chains forced to pull products from their shelves and food safety experts ramping up spot checks.

Philip Ho, an officer from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, told RTHK radio Monday that dozens of food samples had been taken with results expected in the next few days.

"The investigation is ongoing. After we spotted the problem, we have been trying to contact food operators such as importers and bakeries," Ho said.

A spokeswoman for the Centre for Food Safety told AFP that labs were also conducting tests on mooncakes from retailers across the city.

Mooncakes are popular dense pastries consumed in vast numbers during the Mid-Autumn festival, a traditional harvest festival that is currently being celebrated across China.

Popular bakery chain Maxim's Cakes removed pineapple buns from their shelves over the weekend after confirming they had used oil from Chang Guann, the Taiwanese oil manufacturer at the heart of the scandal.

The chain said there was no evidence that the lard oil used to make the buns contained tainted products, but it was removing them anyway "to be ultra cautious on food safety". It has since switched to a Dutch supplier.

Dumpling eatery chain Bafang Yunji also pulled its curry dumplings, local broadcaster RTHK reported on Monday, while supermarket Wellcome removed two products, a BBQ sauce and a noodle dish, from its shelves.

The Centre for Food Safety said it was liasing with Taiwanese authorities, adding that it was prioritising checks on "cooking oil, bakeries, dim sum manufacturers and snacks shops selling Taiwanese-style food".

In Macau, the city's Food Safety Centre said 21 bakeries and food manufacturers had bought oil from Chang Guann through a local importer.

Chang Guann has apologised for the scandal but said it was unaware the oils were recycled.

The scandal is the second food safety scare to hit Hong Kong this summer.

In July, McDonald's suspended sales of chicken nuggets and several other items after admitting it imported food from a US-owned firm in China at the centre of an expired meat scandal.

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