American in Spain

Sunflower Oil Recall

April 29, 2008

SunflowerMy wife works in an anchovy processing plant. They do the entire process: freshly caught fish go in and cans come out. Last Friday, she came home very stressed.

Her: "We've had a disaster at work! All the cans we've sent out for the past few months have had contaminated oil in them!" Me: "Contaminated how?" Her: "With mineral oil." Me: "What's that?" Her: "You know, like motor oil. For cars." Me: "Yuck! That sounds serious! Was it your company's fault?" Her: "No, it came that way from our supplier. There's a national alert out about it."

She immediately called her family and told them not to cook with sunflower oil or eat any oil-based products, like mayonnaise or canned fish, that they had bought in the past few months. Within a couple of hours, the news had hit the mainstream media and the Spanish Health Minister was on TV saying not to eat sunflower oil until further investigation could be done. This was immediately followed by footage of Spanish sunflower farmers crying about how this scare was going to ruin them, and restaurant chefs complaining about how much it was going to cost them to use olive oil for all their fried foods.

The source of the problem was an oil supplier in the Ukraine, who mixed some cheap mineral oil into a shipment of sunflower oil sent all over Europe. I have been unable to get a decent explanation of the risks/symptoms from either my wife or the news media beyond "It depends on the quantity ingested, but you could die." Great. What isn't that true of?

By Monday, the Spanish Health Minister was on TV again saying that, "Nevermind, it's safe to buy sunflower oil-based products again." My wife comes home from work...

Her: [sighs] "What a big hassle this sunflower oil recall is for us at work!"Me: "But the minister dude said it was okay now, right?" Her: "The government is making us throw away our full tank of 6,000 liters of sunflower oil. Six thousand liters!" Me: "So the oil is dangerous?" Her: "Yes, but when we ask if we should recall all the cans we've already packaged and shipped, they say, 'Nah, no need.' It's such hypocrisy!" Me: "Ahhh, the old Fight Club recall equation..."

One of better bits of dialog from Fight Club:

Narrator: "A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one." Business woman on plane: "Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?" Narrator: "You wouldn't believe." Business woman on plane: "Which car company do you work for?" Narrator: "A major one."

So that's the answer to what company my wife works for. As far as you're concerned, "A major one."

If you live in Europe, I'd spread the mayo extra thin for the next couple months.