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Ditch oil

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地沟油 (dìgōu yóu): ditch oil

“Refining” ditch oil.

Ditch oil, or “gutter oil,” is cooking oil that is “refined” from the leftover food that people and restaurants throw away. The leftovers are usually used to feed pigs, but some unscrupulous people will gather the slop and “recycle” it by selling it as low-cost cooking oil. Refining ditch oil is illegal because of its negative health effects; it is carcinogenic and contains hazardous chemicals.

Ditch first became a topic of major concern in 2010, when authorities revealed that up to one-tenth of cooking oil used in China might actually be ditch oil. Ongoing investigations have shown that the ditch oil is widely used. Ditch oil is now a symbol of China’s ongoing food safety issues. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that 41% of Chinese considered food safety a very big problem for the country, up from just 12% in 2008.