In the Internet era, increasing people buy and/or sell goods, including food products, through online platforms. But, do you know whether the food you buy and/or sell on the Internet is legally imported into Macao? What are the food safety risks associated with online shopping and surrogate shopping? And what do consumers need to know before buying food online or through surrogate shopping services?
Is the food you buy and/or sell on the Internet legally imported into Macao?
In accordance with Law No. 7/2003 (“Foreign Trade Law”), as amended by Law No. 3/2016, and Chief Executive Decision No. 209/2021, people who import particular food products into Macao, such as fresh and live food products, like vegetables and meat, as well as food of animal origin, including processed food products containing more than 20% by weight of animal-derived ingredients, such as meat, aquatic and blood products, are required to declare the foods truthfully to the competent authority and subject to compulsory hygiene inspection by law. For further verification, food importers must submit the respective official health certificates issued by the country of origin and provide information related to their sanitary and quarantine inspection. Only food items which have passed the assessment and inspection will be released into the market. Otherwise, the importers shall bear legal responsibility on the basis of the law.
In accordance with Law No. 5/2013 “Food Safety Law”, any person engaged in the production, operation and sale who use the smuggled foods, which have not received statutory inspections, may constitute a crime. The penalty is imprisonment up to 5 years or a fine of up to 600 days. If such an act constitutes an administrative infraction, the person in question shall be fined MOP 50,000 to MOP 600,000.
In this respect, the food industry, especially those engaged in food import, online grocery shopping, surrogate for oversea grocery shopping and providing in-store pickup service, must pay attention to the fact that whether their imported foods are mandatory required to sanitary inspection and quarantine. They have to recognize the legal responsibilities involved. Likewise, consumers ought to be cautious when purchasing these foods on the Internet.
Businesses engaged in the import, online shopping service, surrogate shopping service and in-store pickup service related to food have to note:
I - Before the import and supply of particular food items, business operator has the responsibility to look up the commodity codes of these food items in the “Nomenclature for the External Trade of Macao/Harmonized System” (abbreviated as “SH Codes”) through the Statistics and Census Service (DSEC). Subsequently, the businessman should compare the SH codes of these items with those in the table of goods subject to the sanitary and phytosanitary measures listed in Annex III of Chief Executive Decision No. 209/2021 so as to determine whether or not the food items are necessary for mandatory hygiene inspection. Alternatively, the businessman can make an inquiry to the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) by calling the Food Safety Hotline (2833 8181) to check whether the food items are required for mandatory hygiene inspection by providing their SH codes.
II - Online food shopping business and surrogate food shopping service are controlled and restricted by the “Food Safety Law”. The Department of Food Safety (DSA) of the Municipal Affairs Bureau regulates and supervises the production and operation of food in Macao based on the “Food Safety Law”. These business practices are being continuously monitored by DSA’s designated staffs in order to assess and record the online sales in different food commodities. So far, no abnormality has been detected in the samples tested on the ready-to-eat food, like sushi, sashimi, fresh oysters, pastries and desserts. The DSA will maintain the routines of food surveillance, sampling and hygiene inspection in the physical stores of food businesses, and keep in touch with the food industry at all times. Business operators must cooperate with the Municipal Affairs Bureau to conduct on-site inspection and sampling; moreover, they have to comply with the standards and guidelines related to the production and operation of food.
III - Online food vendors should proactively provide and publish clear information about the food products, contact methods, post-sales services, etc., on their websites.
IV - In each stage of food production and operation, food providers must comply with the requirements of food safety and hygiene standards, as well as relevant standards and regulations, so as to ensure that the food products are suitable for human consumption.
V - Improper ways of food transportation, storage and preparation negatively affect the food quality and safety, e.g., deterioration or causing foodborne illnesses. The food sellers must understand the food safety risks and legal responsibilities even though these foods are surrogated shopping for someone or resold from other sources.
Before making a decision on the online food shopping or buying oversea food from individual surrogate shoppers, consumers must ask the following questions to online food suppliers:
(1) Do the food products and food ingredients have safety certificates or documents to prove the authenticity of food origins? (e.g., health certificate issued by place of origin, import declaration form, certificate of quarantine and inspection, receipt or sales document from original manufacturer)
Before placing an order, understand the food details, such as its source, storage and transportation conditions, whether it is imported into Macao through legal channels and it has been subjected to inspection;
(2) How to store, transport and deliver the food products?
Pay particular attention when buying fresh, chilled and frozen foods on the Internet. Make sure these items are properly kept at refrigeration (5°C) or freezing (-18°C) temperatures during transport;
(3) Is there clear information about the food product on its package? (e.g., batch/ lot number, origin, food ingredients, expiry date, storage and cooking methods, etc.)
Read the food labels on the food packaging with care and heed the expiry date;
(4) In case of any problem, how to return and refund the products?
If the food packaging is damaged or the food quality looks abnormal, do not eat the food, and return to the vendor.
There are some risks pertaining to the online food shopping or buying oversea food from individual surrogate shoppers. We are unable to justify the product authenticity based on the photos posted on the webpage. Buyers may have many concerns about obtaining the counterfeit or substandard products, the difficulties of product return, refund procedures, etc. Therefore, consumers have to realize the food safety risks involved. The questions mentioned above, the food buyers must request the vendors to provide clear information. We should buy our food carefully and make a rational choice.
Besides, what else do consumers have to be aware of?
Click on the video learning more: Online food shopping involves high risks, think thrice before buying (Chinese version only)
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