Cost savings? Imported health functional foods can now undergo automatic customs screening in Korea

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea has now permitted health functional foods imports to go through automatic document screening when crossing the customs. © Getty Images
South Korea has now permitted health functional foods imports to go through automatic document screening when crossing the customs. © Getty Images

Related tags MFDS health functional foods South korea

Health functional foods imported into South Korea can now go through automatic document screening which takes up to only five minutes – an initiative that is also expected to help importers lower logistics costs when crossing the customs.

The automatic document screening, known as Electronic Review 24 (SAFE-i24), is also applied to imported processed foods from May 20.

Prior to this, only food additives, agricultural, livestock, and marine products are allowed for automatic document screening.

“The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) will apply the 'Electronic Review 24 (SAFE-i24)' system, which automatically inspects, reports, accepts foods with a low risk of harm and is repeatedly imported [into South Korea], from May 20 to all products,”​ said the regulator.

Aside from being regularly imported into the country, automatic screening is also opened to products which do not require additional precise onsite and random sample testing.

Once the importer enters an import declaration, the SAFE-i24 electronic system will automatically screen the documents submitted.

The screening process will sieve out the inspection history of the imports, such as whether there was any use of prohibited raw materials or history of non-compliance.

Once accepted, an import declaration confirmation certificate will be issued. Otherwise, the importer will need to reconfirm information related to the imports.

The MFDS said that applying automatic electronic screening to health functional foods and processed foods would greatly reduce the amount of time required to process customs clearance. This is because these two categories accounted for the bulk of import declarations –at approximately 41 per cent last year.

Last year, 1.6 per cent of all import declarations came from health functional foods, while 39.4 per cent came from processed foods.

Agricultural, livestock and marine products took up 35.1 per cent, while food additives took up 4.8 per cent. The rest came from utensils, containers, and packaging imports – which are not yet permitted for automatic document screening.

“As food imports have increased, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has introduced the Electronic Review 24 system to conduct import inspections more efficiently and has also established the legal basis to automate the acceptance of import declarations,” ​it said.

Between year 2017 and 2020, the number of food related import declarations had increased from 672,273 to 750,993.

This figure further went up to 792,374 last year.

Electronic Review 24 (SAFE-i24) was first piloted between November 2022 and September last year.   

Satisfaction rate

Based on a survey conducted last April, approximately 95 per cent, or 258 out of 273 importers surveyed, had rated the automatic screening positively, said the MFDS.

They were satisfied with the shortened import declaration processing time, reduced logistics costs, and how the system, being available 24 hours, could allow them to go through automatic document screening outside of business hours.

For instance, about 26.8 per cent of the automatic document screening was performed at night or on public holidays.

“In the future, we plan to educate and promote correct reporting techniques so that importers can report imports smoothly and without error, and to conduct more thorough safety management, including inspections of imported foods with a high risk of harm,”​ said the MFDS.

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