Food Safety: Black Market Cooking Oil in China

One of my friends from Singapore recently sent me this article from the Washington Post titled: You may never eat street food in China again after watching this video.

The article is about black market “recycled” black market cooking oil fished from the sewer. While technically illegal, it accounts for about 10% of all cooking oil in China. While you’re not going to find this stuff at the grocery store, a lot of street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants will buy this toxic gunk well below market price and use it in their cooking.

While this video is pretty scary, these places can be easily avoided while traveling in China; just don’t eat at a place that looks like it will make you sick. To be honest, I’ve only ever gotten sick from nice, established restaurants in China! Rarely ever to I get sick from street food or hole-in-the-wall places. Keep in mind, the one time I was hospitalized with food poisoning it was from a $10 bacon cheeseburger at a nice Western restaurant in the international district of my city. You never know!

Since I’ve lived in China for a while now, I tend to eat at little hole-in-the-wall places all the time because they’re cheap, fast and convenient. I frequent places in non-touristy areas because they have to rely on local customers to make a business. If they poison enough people with garbage oil, everyone will stop coming back. If a place is packed with locals during lunch and dinner hours you can be almost certain that it’s “fine” by China standards.

One tip for travelers heading to China is to stock up on Imodium. Doctors may tell you that you need prescription diarrhea medication, but for me one Imodium tablet normally does the trick and I’m fine within a half hour or so! If at all possible, it’s best to just let the bug run its course, but if you’re traveling always have some Imodium on you. I always keep a pill in my purse!



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

1 comments on “Food Safety: Black Market Cooking Oil in China

  1. When I lived there I got a lot. Now I think I understand why. I honestly and unfortunately will never return to China. I was there in 2007 and it has gotten worse! Be safe Richelle! Thanks for finding the real China as I did back in the day.

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