More and more people shop and sell products online with the advancement of e-commerce. Though it brings convenience, yet consumers have to pay particular attention to purchase of certain commodities, like food products. It is best to first learn about the food safety risk associated with shopping food online.
Risk associated with online information: Without access to the physical items, consumers have no way getting to know their quality simply by the provided textual description and images. If the information shown in the online trading platforms is inaccurate, false, exaggerated or concealing facts, it may cause potential food safety hazards.
Risk associated with food transportation: Particularly concerning the sale and transportation of food products which are purchased through overseas online shopping, it is hardly known whether the shipping companies or agents used reliable and appropriate equipment for dispatch of the products. There are many uncertainties present in the condition of transportation, hygiene condition of equipment and transportation process that would likely increase product’s exposure to risk.
Liability risk associated with overseas online shopping: Among operators of overseas online purchase of food, there are the honest and the unscrupulous. Consequently, it is uncertain whether they have a proper self-management system to supervise the up-lines and down-lines of the food products available for purchase. In times of disputes, it becomes very difficult to pursue liability claims against them. Moreover, if the food products imported from overseas are subject to mandatory inspection and quarantine, it is deemed necessary to understand the legal liabilities involved.
Regulation of online food shopping and law enforcement by IAM
In accordance with the “Food Safety Law”, the Food Safety Department of the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) regulates food production and operation in Macao, maintains constant surveillance of online food trading through specialized staff, conducts assessment and records online sales of food items. So far, the results of sampling tests made on ready-to-eat food like sushi, sashimi, fresh oysters, pastries and desserts, revealed no cases of irregularities. The Department will maintain its food surveillance and sampling, perform routine hygiene inspection of the physical stores and keep in touch with the food sector at all times. If ever any online shops have food safety issues, it will order them, in accordance with the law, to stop the sale of concerned products and disclose their operational information. When there is sufficient evidence, the case shall be referred to the Public Prosecutions Office for follow-ups with respect to alleged “crime of production and operation of noxious food”.
Things to note for online shopping business and buy-on-your-behalf service:
In accordance with Law No. 5/2013 “Food Safety Law”, the production and operation of food in Macao, in whatsoever manner, are regulated and constrained by this Law. Since all food-associated online shopping activities and buy-on-your-behalf service in Macao are within the scope of routine surveillance of IAM, operators of these businesses are required to cooperate with the Food Safety Department regarding inspections and sampling tests, and to abide by the relevant standards and guidelines in their production and operation.
In accordance with Law No. 3/2016 “Amendment to Law No. 7/2003 - External Trade Law” and Chief Executive Writ of Instruction No. 209/2021, when a business involves import of particular food items from places outside Macao, it must make import declaration to competent authorities and the food items are subject to hygiene inspection Otherwise, the concerned party shall be subject to legal liabilities according to the law.