13 of Chengdu's hottest hotpots found to use 'substandard' oil; scandal ensues
A local hotpot restaurant declares its innocence. Thanks, China Daily!
Authorities in Chengdu, a city known for its hotpot restaurants—bubbling pots of red, pepper-laden oil—and its cuisine that occupies an iconic status in the national conscience, has taken a tough stance against anyone who threatens to "tarnish" the food industry.
An investigation was carried out, and offenders found—although allegedly the main culprit, Gufeng Oil Factory, was not selling the drainage oil but "substandard" oil "counterfeited" from corn oil and essence and passed off as sesame oil. The factory has been shut down and the restaurants penalized.
Although reporters were initially told not to publish names of offending restaurants, public outcry eventually led city authorities to reconsider that decision. One netizen posted a cheeky spoof restaurant calendar that says "Swill Oil" at the top and names 13 of the city's biggest-name hotpot restaurants at the bottom.
Then something changed, and local media coyly addressed the issue without naming any names. This was what was said on the matter in the March 29 issue of Sichuan Online:
"I've been looking and looking, and I still don't see which three hotpot restaurants it is that use the swill oil, I guess I can't eat any hotpot now," said Ms. Xu at the Wuhou Library, that day's newspaper in hand. The reason was, the day before, many of Chengdu's media had released the headline '13 of Chengdu's hotpot restaurants penalized for using swill oil' and delineated the city's action against the production of swill oil, but there was no mention anywhere of which 13 hotpot restaurants were actually implicated in the case. The same day, an essay titled "The names of Chengdu's 13 hotpot restaurants that use swill oil ... just hearsay" spread rapidly on Internet forums.
On the evening of March 12, a reporter with one of Chengdu's television stations took undercover video footage of the manufacture and sale of swill oil. On the list of the oil's customers were over 20 of Chengdu's most reputed hotpot restaurants. The exposure of pricey restaurants like Shujiuxiang Hotpot using low-grade oil led to many an irate customer.
"Their prices are so high, yet they still use this swill oil! Then what about other hotpot restaurants, the small chuanchuan restaurants on the side of the street ... I don't even want to think about what oil they might be using!" Ms. Xu continued, telling the reporter that she's a frequent customer of Sichuan's hotpot restaurants, visiting at least once a week. "Now I wouldn't think of going to eat hotpot."
The March 12 video expose also implicated Chongqing Pang Ma Lan Hotpot. The next day, it was announced on the news that Pang Ma Hotpot would make its own statement regarding the matter. At the same time on the Aika forums, a netizen was vociferously declaring his support for Pang Ma and predicting that very soon there would be a news program to secretly investigate the situation and declare the hotpot restaurants in accordance with all regulations.
Sure enough, a secret investigation into Chongqing Pang Ma Lan Hotpot broadcast was soon announced and just as quickly derided by netizens as "insulting the intelligence of the people." After this, all mention of the matter came to a screeching halt as far as the Chengdu media were concerned.
Sometime later, according to the March 21 issue of the "San Qin City Paper," when the Food and Drug Administration of Xi'an carried out an inspection on the oil situation in a part of the city's food and beverage enterprises, the Chongqing Pang Ma Hotpot was listed as having been shut down on suspicion of using recycled oil.
On March 28, the Chengdu Daily, Chengdu Commercial Daily, West China Metropolitan, and more of Chengdu's major media published the story regarding the cleanup of Chengdu's oil industry [see below] that stated the industry would be restored within one month and that all 13 restaurants found to be purchasing and selling the recycled oil would face penalties. But these 13 hotpot restaurants' names were never mentioned, bringing the wrath of the crowds.
"Giving people drainage oil to eat, they've already exposed the horrendous situation, they should just finish the job and let the media fully expose who these culprits are!" said Ms. Xu. "If they're not named, how will the people know where it's safe to go eat hotpot?"
A net user in Yunnan named loverjy2008's message seemed to summarize all the voices with her post: "You must release the names of the 13 enterprises implicated in this scandal! "
At the same time, a post was circulating widely on the Chengdu forums, written by a user named 藐视潜规则 (something like "Against the Unwritten Law"), and releasing a list of 13 names. The names were
Weidao Jianghu (味道江湖)
Baixing Ranjia (百姓人家)
Three Ears (三只耳)
Rongcheng Laoma (蓉城老妈)
Qi Hotpot (奇火锅)
Xiao Tian'e (小天鹅)
Huangcheng Laoma (皇城老妈)
Shu Jiuxiang (蜀九香)
Panma's Lan Hotpot (胖妈烂火锅)
Qinma's Hotpot (秦妈火锅)
Chuanwangfu Hotpot (川王府火锅)
Kongliang Hotpot (孔亮火锅).
As to whether or not this list of names is accurate, the reporter shall continue to seek the truth so that readers can peel back their layers of suspicion.
According to the English-language reports cited above, officials did eventually release their own list of offenders, which was not the same as the one circulating online. The list was: Laomatou Food and Entertainment Company; Deng Mao Du Hot Pot; Yixiangyuan Hot Pot; Chuan Jiang Hao Zi Food Development Company Gongshang Yulin Store; Changshun Store; Xiang Tian Xia Food Company; Rong Ding Xiang Food Company; Lao Zhuang Hot Pot; La Yuan Su Food Management Company; Chengdu Zhang Lao Shan Hot Pot; Bashu Dazhaimen Hot Pot; Shu Jiu Xiang SM Store; Xin Shu Jiuxiang Food Company Zijing Store; and Chengdu Yuanman Xiang Food Management Company.
Excerpts of the report mentioned above, which started the fuss, are translated below:
The Office of the City Committee on Food Safety announced on March 28 that several instances of suspected sales of substandard cooking oil in Chengdu have been investigated and those who were implicated in the investigations detained by the Public Security Bureau. At the same time, the administration is setting forth relevant regulations. The 13 hotpot restaurants who purchased and used substandard cooking oil in violation of food-safety regulations have been penalized. Legal investigation is now underway.
Yesterday, the Office of the City Committee on Food Safety issued a bulletin listing current relevant governmental regulations, news of the investigation of cases of sale and use of substandard cooking oil, and a statement that they have resolved to clean up the cooking oil market. Implicated in the investigation is Gufeng Cooking Oil (谷丰香油坊) for its illicit business activity, specifically, the illegal production and sale of unlicensed "Da Feng Cooking Oil" as well as the passing off of fake goods as genuine, forgery under the name of another, and forgery under the licensing of another. In accordance with the relevant regulations in Line 15 of the Product Quality Law, the City Quality Inspection Bureau and the Bureau of Commerce and Industry have penalized Yufeng Cooking Oil, and the City Sanitation Department will, in accordance with the Law on Food Safety, will conduct appropriate legal proceedings and impose a penalty on the 13 hotpot restaurants that were found to illegally sell and use Dafeng Cooking Oil.
The Municipal Committee and City Hall attach a great degree of importance to the matter of food safety. Under their supervision, the city's food safety regulations have drawn up a "Dedicated Task Force for the Restoration of Chengdu City's Cooking Oil" in order to organize and oversee the issuing of all food-production licenses to companies engaged in the manufacture and processing of vegetable cooking oil, wholesale grain oil businesses, open markets, oil wholesale markets, and food and beverage service enterprises. The plan is to be implemented within one month. The relevant bureaus are also rapidly implementing a special, city-wide cooking oil production, distribution, and consumption roundtable investigation. So far, the sources of over 3,000 restaurants and 878 hotpot restaurants in the city have been investigated as well as 40 sesame oil enterprises at the Wukuaishi Oil Wholesale Market.