FSSAI has collaborated with the National Biodiesel Association to establish a nationwide ecosystem for the collection of used cooking oil and its conversion into bio-diesel, in adherence to the country’s apex food regulator’s directive to monitor the quality of used cooking oil, which came into force recently.

This was stated by Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, who added that the apex food regulator was advising the state food safety commissioners to take up awareness and education programmes, surveillance and enforcement activities in this regard.

He added that small quantities of used cooking oil were already being collected from food businesses, either through a barter arrangement or at cost, but there was a huge scope for expanding this ecosystem.

Annually, about 23 million metric tonne (MT) cooking oil is consumed in India. There is potential to recover and use about three million MT of this for production of bio-diesel. According to an estimate, this will have an estimated value of Rs 18,000 crore per year.

“Used cooking oil is viewed as the most reasonable and advisable feedstock for bio-diesel production. Bio-diesel is a non-poisonous and biodegradable fuel with a better burning emission profile and a high flash point. Therefore it is easy to transport. Thus, the time is right for India now to take-up large scale bio-diesel production using used cooking oil as feedstock through a coordinated effort,” said Agarwal.

A few of the states have already responded the call. Gujarat has already initiated the work related to the conversion of used cooking oil into bio-diesel. It has already established a campaign for this purpose. H G Koshia, commissioner, Gujarat Food and Drug Control Association (FDCA), stated that the state chief secretary met Agarwal to discuss the matter of collecting used cooking oil and converting it into bio-diesel.

“What used to happen was that big FBOs in the business of selling fried products didn’t find any buyers for their used cooking oil. So, in order to dispose it of, they sold it to smaller FBOs, who purchased it at a much lower price. That oil was then used to cook food. After the meeting with the FSSAI CEO, we have decided to help FBOs to connect with the Indian Bio-diesel Association and other companies who are ready to purchase the used oil for them. Recently, a Hyderabad-based company approached us to connect with FBOs for the purchase of used oil. The move will help all stakeholders, and importantly, human health will not be at risk,” said Koshia.

Meanwhile, on the regulations for used cooking oil, Agarwal stated that the effective implementation of used cooking oil standards was a win-win-win for all three, i e public health, the environment and energy security. He added, This would, however, require a Triple E strategy and a coordinated effort.”

“The first E in the Triple E strategy is education (that, is educating both the consumers and food businesses about the public health consequences of spoiled used cooking oil). The second E is enforcement (particularly amongst large food processing plants, restaurants and fast food joints that fry food in large quantities), and the third E is developing an ecosystem for collection of used cooking oil and producing bio-diesel from it,” Agarwal said.

The prolonged reuse of cooking oil for deep-frying is a potential health hazard and can lead to many diseases. The repeated frying of cooking oil leads to changes in physiochemical, nutritional and sensory properties of edible oil.

The use of cooking oil for repeated frying leads to the formation of total polar compounds (TPCs), making it unfit for human consumption. There is evidence to suggest that TPCs above the set level cause hypertension, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, etc.

FSSAI has notified the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses), First Amendment Regulations, 2017. These regulations prescribe the limit for TPCs to be maximum 25 per cent beyond which the cooking oil is not suitable for use.

From July 1, 2018 onwards, all FBOs would be required to monitor the quality of oil during frying to comply with the said regulations.

FSSAI has also established the method to estimate the TPCs in edible oils and fats based on AOAC Official Method 982.27 vide Order dated February 20, 2018. For rapid on-site testing by food businesses themselves, small handheld devices are now available that check the TPCs in the oil during frying.

Currently, used cooking oil is either not discarded at all or disposed of in an environmentally-hazardous manner, thereby choking drains and sewerage systems.

Also, used cooking oil reportedly finds its way to small restaurants/dhabas and roadside vendors.

Given that used cooking oil is a potential feedstock for bio-diesel, its use for making bio-diesel will be environmentally safe and prevent the diversion of used cooking oil to small restaurants/roadside vendors.

The National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 released in May 2018, has categorised biodiesel as first-generation (1G) bio-fuel. The policy encourages the setting up of supply chain mechanisms for bio-diesel production from used cooking oil.

Susmita Chandra, scientist and faculty, Department of Biotechnology, Makaut, West Bengal, said that used cooking oil, or specially oil used for deep frying, did not remain edible after few usages.

“Now instead of reusing them, it can be converted into bio-diesel. Tonnes of waste oil per year undergo effluent treatment before left in the drained in the sewerage. Instead of this, if the oil is separately treated and converted to bio-diesel, it can be a profitable affair also for the industries,” she added.

It will actually help FSSAI to meet the environmental compliances, because some of the untreated food industry effluent containing substantial amount of waste oil is already under scanner of  the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs).

“There are several microbial and enzymatic methods which help waste oil to convert into bio-diesel. These are all emerging technologies. The initial establishment cost may be high, but both food and bio-diesel industries will benefit from it,” said Chandra.