LCQ8: Online food sale

     Following is a question by the Hon Tommy Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (April 27):


     To safeguard food safety, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has prepared a new set of permits for the regulation of online sale of restricted foods (permits), which are open for application by the food business sector from February 22 this year. Some members of the food business sector have relayed to me their hope that while the authorities regulate the online sale of restricted foods, they can facilitate business operation as far as possible and expedite the processing of applications for permits, so that operators can commence conducting the business of online food selling as early as possible. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of cases, in each of the past five years, in which the authorities issued verbal warnings to and instituted prosecutions against persons who had conducted online sale of (i) foods manufactured by family-run workshops not granted with a food factory licence, or (ii) foods imported without an import licence as required by the law;

(2) of the number of applications for permits received by the authorities since February 22 this year; among them, the respective numbers of applications approved and rejected, as well as the reasons for some of the applications being rejected (set out in a table);

(3) of the respective numbers of cases, since February 22 this year, in which the authorities issued verbal warnings to and instituted prosecutions against persons who had conducted online sale of restricted foods without permits; and

(4) how the authorities carry out publicity and public education work to enable members of the public to understand the new measures for regulating online sale of restricted foods and to distinguish whether an online seller has obtained the relevant food business licences or permits?



     The Government has always attached great importance to food safety. In fact, our existing legislation regulates different aspects relating to food safety and food trade operations, whether it is conducted through electronic or other means. In general, the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates that all food for sale in Hong Kong must be fit for human consumption, irrespective of whether the business is conducted online or in the traditional manner.

     As regards food imported and supplied, the Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612) stipulates a   registration scheme for food importers and distributors and provides for requirements to maintain transaction records so that in the event of a food incident, the sources and points of sale of the food concerned can be traced and the incident can be dealt with effectively to safeguard public health.  

     Regarding food business, any person who carries on any food business which involves the preparation of food for sale for human consumption off the premises must obtain a food factory licence under the Food Business Regulation (Cap. 132X). For online food sale, relevant licences or written permission should be obtained from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), having regard to the modes of operation and categories of food for sale. For food with higher risks, the Regulation also stipulates that save with the written permission of the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, no person shall sell any restricted foods specified in Schedule 2 to the Regulation, including sashimi, sushi and oysters to be eaten in raw state. Food premises must meet the relevant licensing requirements to be granted a licence or permit.

     To further safeguard food safety, the FEHD introduced on February 22, 2016 a new set of licensing conditions for the regulation of operators without physical premises and selling restricted foods via the Internet or social media platforms. Applications for the relevant permits are accepted starting from the same day. The licensing conditions mainly require that restricted foods must be obtained from lawful sources and not be tampered with during transportation to prevent cross-contamination, and that the food products shall be stored at a safe and proper temperature at all times.  

     Under the licensing conditions, operators should also disclose on their websites information about their permits, such as the permit numbers, registered business addresses and the categories of restricted foods permitted to sell, for reference by consumers when they purchase online and enable them to verify such information by referring to the FEHD website.  

     My reply to the four questions raised by the Hon Tommy Cheung is as follows:  

(1) The FEHD has been monitoring online food sale since June 2012. If any food sold online for human consumption is suspected of involving unlicensed food business or is from a suspicious source, the FEHD will conduct investigations and take follow-up actions accordingly, including issuing warnings to the websites concerned. Should there be sufficient evidence, prosecution will be initiated. From June 2012 to March 2016, the FEHD issued a total of 597 warnings to the websites concerned and initiated 55 prosecutions. The FEHD does not have the breakdown of the enforcement actions against food production premises of unlicensed family-run workshops.  

     For public health reasons, import of certain foods, such as milk, milk products, frozen confections, game, meat, poultry and poultry eggs, are subject to regulatory control under the relevant subsidiary legislation of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. Prior to importing these foods into Hong Kong, importers have to submit relevant information to the FEHD for approval. In the past five years, the FEHD instituted a total of 2 390 prosecutions in cases involving illegal import of food. Among these cases, however, we do not have the number of cases involving online food sale.

(2) As at April 25, the FEHD has received 142 applications for permits for online sale of restricted foods. So far, 30 permits have been issued and 79 applications are under processing. The remaining 33 applications require no further action as they have been withdrawn by the applicants, mainly because the business concerned involves actual handling of food and therefore other kinds of food business licences are required, duplicated applications have been submitted, or the proposed business does not involve the sale of restricted foods. If an applicant submits all necessary documents, the FEHD will promptly process the application.

(3) From January to April 2016, the FEHD issued 17 warnings and instituted six prosecutions against operators suspected of operating an unlicensed food business or selling restricted foods online without permission, among which 10 warnings were issued and two prosecutions instituted after the introduction of the above-mentioned permit on February 22.

(4) The FEHD has stepped up public education and publicity on the sale of food online. A series of television and radio Announcements in the Public Interest (APIs) have been broadcast since December last year to draw attention to the safety issues and inherent risks of purchasing food online and advise the public to check and make sure that food suppliers handle and deliver food properly before placing orders online. Moreover, members of the public should ask food operators to provide information about their licensing/registration particulars, and verify such information by referring to the FEHD website. The FEHD has also called upon food retailers, including online shops, through different channels such as leaflets, the FEHD website and meetings with the Business Liaison Group of Food Business and the trade to ensure that their food products are stored and delivered at a safe temperature as instructed by food manufacturers or suppliers. To safeguard the rights and health of consumers, the FEHD has reminded the trade and the public of the need to apply for a food business licence or permit under the law for operating a food business, irrespective of its scale and nature.  

     Besides, the FEHD launched another series of radio APIs in February this year to remind the trade of the need to obtain a licence or permit for their online food sale business and the conditions to be complied with. Relevant television APIs will also be launched in early May.

Ends/Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:24