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Sniffing Out 'Gutter Oil' in China

Aug 27, 2014 10:08 PM EDT
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China suffers from a relatively unique problem. Some cooking establishments use waste oil, called "gutter oil" in their cooking. This is a potentially dangerous practice, and officials have been struggling to figure out how they can better monitor this problem. Now researchers believe they have the solution.
(Photo : Flickr: James Jordan)

China suffers from a relatively unique problem. Some cooking establishments use waste oil, called "gutter oil," in their cooking. This is a potentially dangerous practice, and officials have been struggling to figure out how they can better monitor this problem. Now, researchers believe they have the solution.

According to a study recently published in the journal Chinese Science Bulletin, researchers at Dalian University of Technology in northeastern China have determined how to use laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to differentiate safe cooking oil from toxic gutter oil.

The researchers describe how di-gou-you, or "gutter oil," is the leftover and overused oil from restaurants, which is then redistributed and reused. Initial research showed that gutter oil contains toxic substances ranging from harmful bacteria to heavy metals and concentrated fatty acids. Long term consumption of foods cooked with this oil has been known to cause liver problems, developmental disabilities in children, and even cancer.

According to the study, distributors of this illegal oil bleach it or mix it with other chemicals to make it look more genuine, which makes it very hard for officials to control its trade.

However, the study found that if a high-energy laser beam is used to vaporize and excite a sample of oil, the resulting plasma will emit a unique spectrum that indicates the presence of certain chemicals.

The analysis reportedly uses two tests in one, each of which boast a 94 and 98 percent accuracy when identifying the presence of gutter-oil specific components.

The researchers suggest that this technology is in fact so simple, it can be adapted into small devices, making oil testing easy and efficient - a boon for the health of Chinese citizens and travelers alike.

More information on the testing process can be found via the Science China Press.

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