As of Oct. 1, China has a strict set of regulations governing how food producers and operators — including related third-party computer platform and delivery service providers — store, market and transport their products sold online.
Known as “Order 27,” the China Food and Drug Administration’s “Measures of the Investigation and Punishment of Illegal Conducts Concerning Online Food Safety” is designed to improve the safety of online food trading by enhancing transparency and accountability.
Some of Order 27’s provisions specifically target food supplements and infant formula, products which Chinese food safety officials regard as particularly troublesome due to past problems.
Recent food safety scandals in China include using recycled “gutter oil” in restaurants, the fraudulent labeling of fox and rat meat as beef and pork, selling pork from diseased pigs, injecting clenbuterol into pork, and contaminating milk powder with melamine.
The new regulations, issued July 13, require that:
- Online producers and traders must get a business license to sell food and operate their businesses.
- Food producers and traders selling via a third-party platform must display their food production license in a visible place on their website.
- Food and beverage service producers must publish their information in a clear format which is easy to read.
- Online producers and traders of food supplements, infant formula milk powder and/or formula food for certain medical purposes must publish their required certifications and credentials and link to data search sites hosted by food and drug regulatory agencies. However, special full-nutrition formula food for special medical purposes cannot be sold online at all.
- Food supplement producers and traders must display this statement: “This Type of Product Cannot Serve as Substitute for Drugs.”
- Online food producers and sellers must guarantee the safe storage and transportation of food sold online which requires refrigeration, insulation or freezing, and they must use storage and transportation services with appropriate storage and transportation abilities.
Other parts of the new regulations address these legal and operational concerns:
- Third-party internet services will be cut off if food producers or sellers are under investigation in relation to a court case, are being publicly sued for an alleged food safety crime, have had a penalty imposed for a crime involving food safety, have been detained for illegal conduct concerning food safety, or have otherwise been punished by Chinese food safety authorities.
- Food producers and sellers are not to publish any information about a food product on the internet which is different than that on the label or other identification of that food product.
- Sales records must be kept for at least six months after the shelf life of the food item expires. If no shelf life is specified for a food item, the records must be kept for at least two years.
- If a consumer suffers damages from a food product bought via an online platform, that person can demand damages from the seller. If the seller cannot be found, the third-party platform provider must pay the damages.
- Chinese food safety officials may conduct on-site inspections, sample food items, review records and use technology to monitor regulated activities.
One element conspicuously absent from Order 27 is any reference to cross-border internet sales. All of the new regulations apply to food producers and sellers engaging in online transactions within China itself.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates internet food sales similar to how it oversees home-based businesses and requires such sellers to register as a “facility” if the food products are sold outside the individual’s state of residence.
“If you are importing food products, conducting internet sales, and/or shipping food products outside of your state, you must register as a facility. Be sure to carefully review the regulations to understand how they apply to your unique set of circumstances,” according to FDA’s website.
Home-based food businesses established in the U.S., including ones primarily transacting business online, are also subject to regulations of state and local health departments.
“Local and county health agencies inspect food service and food retail establishments, provide technical assistance to food facilities, and educate consumers about food safety,” FDA states.
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