World-first voluntary guidelines: Singapore introduces food safety standards in the e-commerce space
The guidelines for food e-commerce were developed by a working group comprised of a government agency, industry associations and private sector players.
Keeping up with the times
There has been an upward trend in the supply and demand for food via e-commerce – as more brick-and-mortar food businesses moved online.
However, divergent practices pertaining to product safety were noted across different e-commerce platforms. The Working Group saw the need for “a common understanding of industry best practices for the management of online sales of food products.”
“The publication and adoption of this standard would elevate industry standards and guide food business operators to achieve better transparency, traceability and accountability when selling food online.
“Additionally, consumers would be empowered to make better informed purchase decisions by buying from businesses that have implemented these practices and have greater food safety assurance,” Dr. Tan Lee Kim, Director-General, Food Administration and Deputy CEO of Singapore Food Agency, added.
The guidelines also expressed the government’s intention to remain supportive to helping businesses to transition to online sales.
Matt Kovac, CEO of Food Industry Asia (FIA), revealed: “It will provide Food Business Operators a practical set of voluntary e-commerce guidelines that can be applied to enhance current processes in order to ensure food safety whilst importantly not stifling innovation.”
What entails the guidelines
Given the diverse operating models in the food e-commerce space, the guidelines focused on the key stages that might be critical to food safety, namely: Food business/seller onboarding process, at the point of e-commerce sale, last-mile delivery, at the point of delivery, and traceability and product recall.
The document also highlighted that the set of guidelines for food e-commerce took reference from the regulatory frameworks previously developed around the delivery of ready-to-eat (RTE) food and electronic commerce transactions.
Other regulatory frameworks
“Singapore is the first country to develop such a comprehensive set of voluntary guidelines, and hence the standard could be utilised by other authorities to help inform best practices for industry,” Kovac added.
In a similar trajectory to Singapore, countries like Canada and the United States are undergoing consideration and consultation with stakeholders in developing voluntary guidance on foods sold through e-commerce platforms.
Canada underwent its consultation that was proposed by government agencies, Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency, from May to July 2022.
Some of the biggest e-commerce markets like China and India have chosen to adopt a regulatory approach in the food e-commerce space, by mandating licensing and compliance to regulatory requirements for food business operators and other key stakeholders in the space.
Since 1st January 2021, China holds e-commerce operators, alongside food producers and business operators, legally responsible for food safety issues related to products purchased on their platforms.
Specifically, food e-commerce platforms are required to conduct the necessary due diligence on their vendors in implementing food safety practices, such as reviewing their business licenses, ensuring authenticity of vendors’ names provided, and halting their service provision on their e-commerce platforms when vendors are suspected of infringing consumers’ rights.
Whereas for India; in September 2017, under the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Amendment Regulations, 2018, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) enforced compliance for all e-commerce food business operators.
The latest amendment to the regulation was made in 2021, where licensing norms were being re-operationalized.