Date
23 March 2017
In the absence of regulation and licensing, it is hard to locate the operator of an online vendor of food, even when there is a problem with contamination. Photo: internet, NowTV
In the absence of regulation and licensing, it is hard to locate the operator of an online vendor of food, even when there is a problem with contamination. Photo: internet, NowTV

Is it safe to order food online?

A nice-looking website tells consumers very little about the quality and safety of an online vendor’s products.

But lots of people care only about price, variety and convenience when they shop online, even when it comes to food, for which safety is, of course, of prime importance.

RTHK recently commisioned a lab to run a test on sushi and oyster samples from two different online seafood shops and found a significant variance in the bacteria count.

Although all samples met the minimum standard, some were near the high end of acceptable bacteria levels, either because of contamination at the source or poor packaging and logistics.

At the moment, unlike their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online food stores are not regulated, and there is no licensing requirement.

That means that while food sold online may be handled in a proper, hygienic environment, it’s equally possible that they are stored or prepared in a makeshift setting or just at home.

Frozen food is one of the high-risk types.

Hong Kong foodie favorites like crabs, oysters and steak all need to be kept at a low temperature at all times from procurement to delivery to ensure they are safe to consume.

Japan has a strict registration and monitoring system for food sold online.

Consumers can trace an item back to the farm that grew the produce and the farmer who runs the farm.

In Hong Kong, you don’t even need to include an address on the website.

ISO 22000 is the international food safety management system that applies to organizations in the food chain.

Yet there is no way to find out if an online shop conforms to the standard.

The good news is Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said in a Legislative Council meeting that the government will soon launch a licensing scheme for online food stores.

Details of the scheme are expected to come out in the next few months.

In future, before checking the offers and placing an order, the first thing shoppers should do is make sure the online vendor has a proper license number and registered address.

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FL

EJ Insight writer

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