Once again chopsticks have hit the news about healthier eating, only this time a digital version of the eating utensil is hoping to be a better tool. With nearly 3.5 million tons of reprocessed cooking oils being illegally used each year, consumers have been looking for help to ensure they are eating right and using a safe oil. The answer may have come from Chinese internet search company Baidu. A sort of “smart” chopstick.
Utilizing a smartphone app connected to a digital sensor filled pair of chopsticks, consumers can analyze the food prior to ingesting it. The chopsticks, which were revealed in Beijing earlier in the week, will send a message to the owners smartphone telling them if the food is “excellent” or “bad”. During the first look at the chopsticks called Baidu Kuaisou, Robin Li, Chief Executive Officer for Baidu, showed a video of the chopsticks being dipped into three different cups. The first two cups, the smartphone showed a positive, or healthy, response. One cup was filled with a regular, edible cooking oil and the other contained olive oil. However, when the chopsticks came in contact with the third cup that contained a recycled cooking oil, the app informed the user that something in the food content was bad.
The chopsticks have been introduced at a time that China’s food industry has been suffering from a number of scandals, some of which included KFC and McDonald’s. Both the fast food companies were forced to pull menu that contained expired and potentially spoiled meat products. These products came to the various franchises from a Chinese meat supplier who had been found to be selling tainted meat.
Oily food use to be a symbol of the wealth of Chinese ages ago, leading to them becoming the world leader in food oil consumption. The demand for cooking oil has reached levels so high, used cooking oil has risen as individuals reprocess the oil and resell it in not so sanitary conditions. This process, which is illegal, has earned the product the moniker of gutter oil.
Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese health expert, reported in the Yangcheng Evening News that between 7 and 14 million tons of the edible oil used in homes is illegally reprocessed and near 3.5 million tons may find its way back to Chinese dinner tables. Nanshan is the health expert who discovered SARS in 2003.
While the new digital chopsticks are promising for better eating habits, Chinese food safety experts believe that it is too soon to call the product a save all for the gutter oil solution. The chopsticks can only detect the peroxide value and the pH level of the oil currently. There is the possibility that the producers of the gutter oil to add chemicals to the recycling process to give the chopsticks a false positive result for clean oil.
The chopsticks came from an idea that was originally intended as an April Fools joke. The buzz that followed the joke announcement from consumers led the company to actually turn the fool intended prank into reality. Currently, there is just prototypes of the chopsticks and no distribution plan in place.
A drawback is, people, if they could buy the digital chopsticks for a better diet would not know until they buy the food from vendors or use the utensils to cook the food in their own homes before sitting down to eat. With the potential to fake the results, Chinese consumers may not be eating the healthiest diet they think they are.
By Carl Auer