CAG has been working towards effective implementation of the trans fat regulations in Tamil Nadu. Artificially produced trans fats like vanaspati, margarine, bakery shortenings, are harmful as they are major contributors to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancer, etc. Used cooking oil is also an important source of trans fat. Experts say that during repeated frying , many properties of oil are altered. The altered properties cause toxicity which are associated with several diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, liver diseases. Recognising the need to protect the health of consumers, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) insists that all Food Business Operators (FBOs) monitor the quality of oil during the process of frying. The Authority has fixed permissible limits for the presence of toxic chemicals in the oil, beyond which the oil should not be used.
Street food vendors play a major role in our food system and it has been often observed that they reuse cooking oil and top up cooked oil with fresh oil. We also hear that the bigger food establishments sell used cooking oil to smaller ones and street vendors at lesser rates.
To know the ground reality, CAG undertook a study of street food vendors in Tamil Nadu. A survey, titled ‘Reusing of cooking oil - A survey of street vendors’- focussed on street food vendors who prepare fried foods across Tamil Nadu viz. Nagapattinam, Madurai, Virudhunagar, Nilgiris,Erode,Salem, Thiruvanamalai, Karur, Dharmapuri, Dindigul, Cuddalore,Thiruvarur, Namakkal and Mayiladudurai. CAG conducted the survey among 2333 street vendors.
Some highlights of the study are as follows:
- The study reveals that palm oil usage ranks highest with 76.2% and could be considered the commonly used oil for cooking purposes by the respondents of the survey. Apart from this, 12.5% respondents use groundnut oil, followed by gingelly oil, vanaspati and sunflower oil.
- About 4% of surveyed vendors admitted to buying reused oil from hotels, restaurants and big snack shops mainly because of low prices.
- 64% of the street vendors said that they add fresh oil to the used oil. Of these, 30% of them said that they topped-up the used oil with fresh oil once, while around 49% said that they do the same twice or more.
- Around 9% said that they reuse the same oil throughout, till it got exhausted.
- Around 55%of street vendors dispose off used oil. 24% of street vendors make use of the old oil for other cooking purposes such as using the oil for house use or as a fuel, to start fires for stoves.
- Most of the respondents (around 90%) are not aware of the Repurposed Used Cooking Oil (RUCO) initiative of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Very few of them (10.5%) avail the services of RUCO. Among the unaware population, the majority of the street vendors (95%) are ready to know and avail the services offered under the RUCO scheme.
Level of awareness of RUCO among the street vendors of Tamil Nadu
FSSAI’s guidelines suggest that used cooking oils be disposed off in an environment friendly manner because tons and tons of oil are being used for cooking purposes. These can be used to make biodiesel which is an environmentally friendly fuel.
It is high time that the FSSAI amended the law to bring all food business operators, including street food vendors within the ambit of RUCO. Presently, only those food business operators, who consumed more than 50 litres of oil in a day are required to maintain records and dispose of the used oil to authorised collection agencies. (1)(2) . It is important for food safety officials to create more awareness among all the food business operators including those in the semi-urban, town and rural areas on the health hazards of reusing oil repeatedly. Expansion of RUCO centers should be widespread to assist the Food Business Operators, especially the street vendors to give away their used cooking oils. Enforcement should be tightened by random checks of frying oil's quality by the Food Safety Officers .This is important to safe-guard the health of consumers.