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Mystery buyers to check online food safety

Updated : 2016-08-11
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Normally, to supervise and regulate food producers, enforcement officials of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration do the testing on-the-spot; to check the quality of the foods, the officials take samples directly. However, the traditional ways to ensure online food safety don’t always work in today’s cyber world. To solidify supervision and quality-testing of food sold online, the SPDA on July 14th issued the Measures to Investigate and Handle Activities of Violation of Online Food’s Safety Regulation, which will become effective on October 1st.

In recent years, the rapid growth of food sales on the web proved highly convenient, attracting more and more consumers. Meanwhile, third-party online selling platforms attracted and gathered various products, forming a brisk and pluralistic market. As online food transactions grew, the diversity of food products kept increasing and places of origin became harder to trace. Consequently, with concerns about online food safety and quality, not to mention the flaws in previous laws, online purchasers felt as much dissatisfaction as convenience and the food and drug regulatory authorities were more worried than ever.

Fortunately, the new measures will help to ameliorate the situation.

One of the measures, a random sampling and inspection system named Mystery Buyers, is novel and practical. SPDA officials, posing as common consumers, purchase food on the internet and examine its safety and quality. They then record detailed required information such as the product’s name, category, and number, and the buyer’s name and account number. The forms also ask who has paid for the food, its delivery address, and contact information. Receipts must be kept.

If the testing result doesn’t meet food safety standards the food producer will be informed. If the purchase was carried out through a third-party server, the server will also be informed. If a food producer fails the inspection, their business will be terminated, and the third-party server will be ordered to cease providing service to that producer.

The Mystery Buyers system realistically simulates online food transactions. It will allow for convenient food inspections by the SFDA, enhance the food producers’ and third party’s awareness of food safety inspection, and better protect consumer rights.