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Stricter Sampling Inspection Standards for Food Sold Online

The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has been soliciting comments on the recently released draft implementing rules of the Food Safety Law (opinion soliciting draft) based on the revised Food Safety Law. With an additional 136 items, the proposed revised rules for the first time defined the sampling standards for the inspection of food sold online. E-commerce platforms dealing in food products are required to file for record with the authorities information of IP address, IP permits and URL. Failure to provide such information from the food merchants operating on their platforms may be subject to a fine of up to Rmb200,000. In addition, the draft also proposed the setting up of a credit rating system of food business operators including producers and traders, linking to financing and credit, in order to keep food business operators’ dishonest behaviour within bounds.  

Online food trading is a mixed bag of business. A variety of food and beverages are sold not only on the third-party e-commerce platforms these days, but also among WeChat friends. Convenience and swiftness are the reasons for many people to choose online food sales.

With the introduction of the new Food Safety Law, however, food will no longer be traded online as freely as before. Eleven items added by the draft rules concern online food trading, which will be subject to the same stringent regulations as physical store sales.

On credentials, the third-party e-commerce platforms and online food business operators are required to provide the URL, IP address and IP permit. Information on the company name, legal representative and photocopy of identity card, and contact details of the third-party platforms is also required to be filed for records with the local food and drug administration department.

Meanwhile, online food business operators are required to display their business licence and production permit in a prominent position of the home page, with the scope of business consistent with that of the licence for physical transactions, which should be updated promptly in case of any change.

Third-party e-commerce platforms should play a supervision role. Failure to provide the registration information, transaction data of online food business operators and food additives retailers, or unauthorised transfer, tampering, forgery, removal of such information, third-party e-commerce platforms will be subject to a fine of up to Rmb200,000.

In the future, online food sales will also be included in the scope of regular food sampling inspection of the food and drug administration department. Detailed provisions in the sampling standards can be found in the draft regulations.

Samples for inspection are to be purchased by personnel from the food and drug administration department, who will make a record of the purchase information. The food and drug administration department will verify the personnel responsible for making the purchase, the payment accounts, registered accounts, delivery address and contact details, keeping the receipts, recording the sample name, category and quantity according to the requirements of online food sampling inspection guidelines.

Upon receipt of  the samples, unpacking and inspection will be jointly conducted by personnel buying the sample, personnel responsible for sampling of the inspection unit and law enforcement personnel of food and drug supervision and management authorities, who will seal the sample and the backup sample respectively. Notification of inspection results will be promptly sent to the online merchants and third-party e-commerce platforms. In case online food business operators cannot be traced due to unknown address or any other reason, the food and drug administration department can publish relevant results on its official website.

As with offline sampling inspection requirements, food traded online which fails in the inspection shall promptly be removed from shelf and put out of circulation. If the online food business operators concerned cannot be traced, the draft regulations provide that the third-party platform providers may be required to remove the relevant online food sales information and to suspend the online trading services.

The draft rules also require the third-party e-commerce platforms to publish their food safety management systems for enquiry by consumers and food business operators. Online food business operators violating the Food Safety Law will also be disclosed in a prominent position on the website.

It is worth mentioning that the draft also proposed the setting up of a food safety inspector regime. A team of full-time food safety inspectors, established by provincial food and drug administration authorities, will carry out on-site inspection of business practices, hazard analysis and critical control point system of food business operators above designated size.  

Food and drug administration authorities of city and county level will also have a new task. The draft proposed that these authorities will carry out routine supervision, inspection, sample and random checking of small family workshops and food vendors.

Establishing a credit rating system of food business operators is also provided in the draft. A sound system of credit history negative information disclosure system and a system of trustworthiness incentives will be established. Convergence of food safety credit evaluation with industry access, credit financing and the issuance of securities may act as constraints in acts of dishonesty for food safety and encourage food business operators’ self-discipline, according to the CFDA.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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