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Black box operation

  • The oil collection factory with so many white colour oil tankers but absolutely no fire extinguishers or other similar equipment to put out the fire in case of emergency. Photo courtesy: Tunku Syed Razman Environmental Foundation
  • According to a cooking oil manufacturing business owner, some of the oil collecting agents would send the oil out of the country for processing due to better prices. Photo courtesy:Sin Chew daily
  • The cooking oil used to fry the chicken repeatedly for two weeks presents dark coloration and unbearable stench (left), against the "white oil" used to fry chicken. Photo courtesy:Sin Chew daily

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

The fact that used cooking oil collecting business is a highly secretive industry in Malaysia has made any attempt by Sin Chew Daily reporters to track the activities of recycling used cooking oil very tough.

We launched the probe based on the information provided on the business cards of used cooking oil collectors, and found that mosts of the companies are non-existent -- either false addresses have been deliberately provided or the businesses were carried out secretively.

From what we have found out, an oil collecting company that collects used cooking oil from fast food outlets has been in operation for more than two decades, attesting to the shocking fact that this industry is by no means new in Malaysia.

Moreover, highly popular fast food outlets might not be very choosy when selecting cooking oil due to their massive demands.

What do these oil collectors do about the used cooking oil they have collected?

In order to find out what has actually happened to the used cooking oil collected from the F&B outlets, we have decided to probe this mysterious industry from the four operators with addresses printed on their business cards.

From the information we have found on the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) database, company "A" was registered in 1978, and then registered as "private limited company" in 2002. Based on the information provided by the company, it is supposed to be involved in the imports and exports of ordinary palm oil and all other types of oil (palm oil derivatives).

As the address of the company's registered office is in Kepong, the business address in the suburbs of KL with a branch office in Selangor, we decided to go to all these three locations to find out more about its operations.

When we reached the address provided in Kepong, we found that it was the office of a consultancy firm.

As for the business address outside KL, it was a top-floor office without any signage while all other businesses on lower floors had clear signages. However, many pairs of shoes were spotted outside the door, showing that there could have been some people inside.

When we approached some of the businesses downstairs, no one seemed to know what kind of business that company was involved in.

As the stairway to the third floor was locked, we tried to ring the bell but the people inside the office refused to open the door, talking to us instead from upstairs. They refused to reveal the name of the company, saying only that it had been in operation at the same place for more than ten years.

As for the branch in Selangor, the address provided only gives the lot number.

We came to a Malay village and was searching around the area but to no avail. Almost all the houses, shoplots and factories in that area did not display their lot numbers or house numbers.

We tried to ask around and after putting in some effort, we finally managed to get some clue from a Malay resident.

We passed by a few factories which had very high gates with no distinct display of company names. We could not be sure which was that branch office we were looking for.

We went to a coffee shop and tried to get some info from the shop owner. Upon hearing the name of the company, the boss told us to go there any more.

The boss admitted there was indeed an oil collecting company in the area. However, he refused to tell the exact location of it, saying that the place was "very dangerous."

He hinted that the place had many drug addicts as well as illegal factories.

That was all we could do for the first company we had in hand.

We then tried to visit the second and third companies located in the Batu Caves area of Selangor.

From the information provided on the second company's business card, we could only locate the street, but not the unit number. As for the third company, the address was also wrong.

So we tried the last company located in a housing estate in Selangor. The address pointed to a double-storey residential house with a white oil tanker put in the front yard along with several oil barrels. However, no one was inside the house.

It is obvious from the investigations we have carried out that these used oil collecting companies have indeed provided wrong addresses. While they would give the F&B operators their business cards, trying to show that they are decent businessmen, the addresses they provide are nevertheless non-existent.

Repeated use

In order to get the first-hand information on the cooking oil used inside restaurants, a Sin Chew Daily applied to work in one of the fast food outlets in town.

The health ministry experiments show that cooking oil repeatedly used for more than 40 times could still comply with the ministry's requirements.

According to the health ministry, Total Polar Compound (TPC) is used to test the cooking oil repeatedly used under very high temperatures. If the TPC reading exceeds 25%, it means the cooking oil has already turned bad and should be discarded.

After three weeks of observation, we have found that the oil used to fry chicken in that fast food outlet has been used repeatedly at least 10 to 25 times for two whole weeks.

As for french fries and chicken nuggets, the cooking oil is used repeatedly for 15 to 30 times a day for one week, the frequency depending on business demands.

This shows that the oil used for frying chicken has been used 245 times on average before it is replaced, 158 times for french fries and chicken nuggets.

The Sin Chew Daily reporter has also discovered that the outlet uses "white oil" to fry chicken, and every night after the shop closes, the electronic oven would be cleaned up, and the oil is filtered with a specific equipment for re-use the following day. Even after the filtration, the oil still gives out a kind of smell.

When it is about the time to replace the cooking oil, it already presents a dark brown colour. Other than the smell of fried chicken, the oil still gives out an unbearable stench.

If you were to carefully examine the fried chicken, you would perhaps notice that the skin is sometimes relatively glossier while sometimes it is dark brown in colour. This is because after the oil is repeatedly used for so many times, residues from the food would go into the oil, making the food fried with it appear darker in colour externally.

That said, we cannot tell whether the frequency of repeated use of cooking oil in that particular outlet is same as in all other outlets.

No reply

Meanwhile, we have repeatedly called the head office of the fast food company to enquiry about the standard procedures in managing the cooking oil, and were told our queries would be referred to the management. However, to date we still have yet to receive any reply from the company.

A business owner who used to be involved in cooking oil packing business told Sin Chew Daily ordinary oil manufacturers would normally not take the risk, as food-related industry needs to go through very stringent inspections before permits could be issued. In addition, the enforcement unit could conduct spot checks once a month, and the factory could be suspended or even closed if irregularities are found.

However, he said there were some used oil collectors trying to tip the oil manufacturers to get customers who bought cooking oil in large quantities, so that they could acquire the used cooking oil from these customers.

"Some of these food hawkers in Klang Valley would receive cheques issued by a company in Thailand after selling the used cooking oil to the collector."

From what he learned from the oil collecting agent, two fast food companies had sold their used cooking oil to his company.

"That company would send the collected cooking oil to a factory near the Thai border for processing before selling it to the rural areas of Thailand."

According to him, the company could sell the used cooking oil in Thailand because enforcement on cooking oil was lax in that country.

An anonymous former fast food outlet employer told Sin Chew Daily every fast food operator had its own standards of oil swap.

She said her shop used "white oil" for frying on an average of three to four times. If they found the oil become turbid after frying the food, it would then be replaced.

"The used cooking oil would be removed by the contract oil collectors."

From what she knew, the oil collectors would process the used cooking oil and then re-sell it to hawkers.

Read also:

Part 1: Recycled cooking oil flooding local market
Part 3: Reproducing used cooking oil into biodiesel


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