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Ombudsman probes Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's regulation over sale of food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages by means of vending machine
The following is issued on behalf of the Office of The Ombudsman:
     The Ombudsman, Ms Winnie Chiu, today (March 28) announced the launch of a direct investigation to examine the regulation over the sale of food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages by means of vending machine by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).
     Under the Food Business Regulation, no person shall sell any restricted foods, including sale by means of a vending machine, except with the written permission of the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene. Currently, vending machines with permits issued by the FEHD mainly offer non-prepackaged beverages (including coffee, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice) and ready-to-eat food items requiring temperature control or simple processing on site. Before approving an application for a permit to sell food by means of vending machine, the FEHD will scrutinise, among other things, the vending machine's location, the operation of selling food and cleaning the equipment, the source of food products and conditions of storage. The FEHD will issue a warning to the permit holder or even cancel the permit if the permit conditions are breached. 
     Information showed that the number of vending machines with a valid permit across Hong Kong had increased from 102 in 2018 to 417 in 2022. In early 2023, the FEHD’s Centre for Food Safety announced the results of a risk assessment study on the microbiological quality of ready-to-eat food sold by vending machine. It pointed out that without proper temperature control and cleaning of the processing or dispensing systems in the vending machines, growth and build-up of micro-organisms may occur and lead to potential microbiological risk in food items. Meanwhile, there have been media reports about vending machines with hot holding temperature below the level required under the permits, or even operation of food vending machines without permits, posing a threat to food safety. Between 2018 and late April 2022, the FEHD received 97 complaints related to food vending machines.
     Ms Chiu said, "In recent years, a higher number and a wider range of vending machines selling food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages have emerged in the market. The FEHD, as the gatekeeper of food safety and public hygiene, should ensure that its regulatory measures are effective to control potential risks to food safety and protect public health amid the growth of the food vending machine business. Against this background, I have decided to initiate a direct investigation into the FEHD's regulation over the sale of food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages by means of vending machine, including the relevant licensing and monitoring system, enforcement against unauthorised operation of vending machines and so forth, with a view to making improvement recommendations where necessary."
     The Ombudsman welcomes views from members of the public on this topic.  Written submissions should reach the Office of The Ombudsman by April 28, 2023:
Address: 30/F, China Merchants Tower, Shun Tak Centre
168–200 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
Fax: 2882 8149
Email: complaints@ombudsman.hk
Ends/Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Issued at HKT 11:00
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