Hong Kong online food sites face scrutiny

Tough new regulations are to be imposed on Hong Kong online food vendors as the government tries to ensure food safety.
Unlicensed businesses preparing and selling food face prosecution and officials will conduct covert buying to test foods.
Health secretary Dr Ko Wing-man told the Legislative Council yesterday that the new rules will take effect during the first quarter of next year.
An explosion in the number of businesses selling food online and the growing popularity of such sites are posing challenges to the regulatory approach of the food trade.
“Food items sold online vary in quality and information about their sources may not be known, which may be potentially hazardous to public health, and not conducive to law enforcement and source traceability,” said Ko.
From next year online food vendors will require licences from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Under the Food Business Regulation, any person who carries on any food business which involves the preparation of food for sale for human consumption off the premises must obtain a food factory licence. The Food Business Regulation also stipulates that save with the written permission of the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, no person shall sell any restricted foods specified in Schedule 2 to the Regulation, including sashimi, sushi and oysters to be consumed in raw state. Food premises must meet the relevant licensing requirements to be granted a licence or permit.
Furthermore, regulations will ensure the cold chain is maintained from factory to consumer to ensure food safety.
Online food vendors will have to display their licence or permit numbers and business addresses on their websites and publicity materials for verification by consumers.
FEHD will also impose the same conditions on existing licences or permits when they are renewed. For operators selling “restricted foods” online without a physical premise, FEHD is preparing a new set of permits including the above new conditions for compliance by these operators when they apply for the relevant permits.
“The FEHD has been monitoring online food sale activities,” said Ko. “If an unlicensed food business is suspected to be involved in selling any food for human consumption online, or the food is from a suspicious source, FEHD officers will conduct investigations and take follow-up action accordingly, including posing as customers (conducting covert operations) to collect information and evidence. Should there be sufficient evidence, the FEHD will initiate prosecution.”
Ko said the Centre for Food Safety will continue to step up sampling of food sold online for chemical and microbiological tests. As at mid-November, over 1300 such food samples were taken for testing, with all results satisfactory.
“We will continue to strengthen our work in surveillance, law enforcement and public education in respect of food sold online.”
The new conditions will stipulate that restricted foods (such as meat, milk, sashimi, sushi and oysters) sold online must be obtained from lawful sources. The permit holders should also ensure that the food products will not be contaminated or tampered with during transportation, and that they will be stored at a safe and proper temperature at all times. For example, chilled meat must be kept at 0°C or below, while sashimi must be kept between 0°C and 4°C and separated from other foods. In addition, pre-packaged food must be properly labelled in accordance with the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W), and delivered to customers in the original pre-packed form.

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