Man held as Taiwan says 900 restaurants used gutter oil

TAIPEI (AFP) - The Taiwanese authorities have detained the main suspect in a food safety scare over recycled cooking oil which officials said Sunday had been supplied to more than 900 restaurants and bakeries.

Kuo Lieh-chen, the owner of an illegal factory in southern Pingtung county at the centre of the scandal, was taken into custody Saturday.

"As he is likely to flee or conspire with other suspects, we decided to take him into custody," Mr Pan Cheng-ping, spokesman for the Pingtung district court, told reporters Saturday.

Prosecutors had filed a complaint after the 32-year-old was released last week on bail of NT$50,000 (S$2,094.73) as concern grew over the food scare.

Television footage showed Kuo's home in Pingtung city pelted with eggs and red paint by angry protesters.

Five other people implicated in the case have also been questioned and released on bail.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Sunday 933 restaurants, bakeries and food plants, including 397 in Taipei city, had used the tainted oil supplied by Chang Guann Co, a leading food oil manufacturer.

Investigators found that in six months from February Chang Guann had bought 243 tonnes of tainted oils - collected from cookers, fryers and grease traps - from Kuo and mixed it with lard oil for sale to its customers islandwide.

A total of 782 tonnes of such oils had been produced.

Chang Guann has apologised but said it was unaware the oils were recycled.

Wei Chuan Foods Corp, the Taiwanese unit of Ting Hsin International Group which owns the Master Kong instant noodle brand, said it had recalled 12 types of products including meat paste and pork floss since late Thursday which may have used the recycled oils.

So far the authorities have seized 49 tonnes of suspected recycled oils from Chang Guann after inspecting the company on Thursday and have ordered all companies it supplies to recall products that may contain the tainted oils.

If charges are brought, the culprits could face fraud charges as well as a fine NT$50 million for violating food safety law.

It is the second food scandal to hit Taiwan in less than a year. In December a factory owner was sentenced to 16 years in prison for selling olive oil adulterated with cheap cottonseed oil and banned colouring agent copper chlorophyllin.