Since e-commerce and online platforms are becoming popular, more and more people have begun to buy fresh foods, groceries and packaged food products online. Though this is a convenient mode which delivers the online ordered food at the doorstep, but consumers are unaware of the food safety risks. One of the biggest drawbacks associated with online food shopping is that you cannot physically access the foods to detect any physical defects, off colours or odour or check the labelling information on packaged food products.
If the food item has been first purchased off line and the quality of the food product is known then the risk is somewhat less as the brand is known and tried. In case the food product is unheard of and is available only online then it is difficult to check on the quality of the product just through images and textual description. In case the information provided online is inaccurate, false, conceals facts or the claims are exaggerated then food safety can be compromised. In the case of fresh food produce like vegetables, fruits, as also fish and meat or restaurant foods then the food safety risk can increase if they have not been stored in hygienic physical stores before despatch.
Another potential food safety risk of shopping for food online is associated with food transportation. There is no way to know if the food product is being transported appropriately and that the temperatures are being monitored during transportation. Food safety risk increases when the shipping companies or agents are unreliable and the food products are not dispatched in the appropriate packaging. There is also no way to ascertain the hygienic condition in the transport vehicle and whether it is being used to transport other products besides food products. All these uncertainties increase the risk of food safety and can expose consumers to health hazards from contamination.
Keeping in mind the food safety risk that consumers could be affected by ordering foods online, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has made it mandatory for e-commerce operators to obtain the FSSAI license. The license would also cover the entire supply chain including registered office, manufacturers, storage and distribution. The e-commerce owners have been advised to sign agreements with the sellers, brand owners and manufactures that they are in compliance with food regulations. FSSAI has also made the e-commerce owners liable for any food safety risk. Along with this the FSSAI has laid down the shelf life time period of 45 days before expiry at the time of delivery to ensure it is safe to consume. In the case of restaurants only fresh food will be served.
Consumers must also make sure they are ordering foods only from e-commerce platforms where the delivery personnel are trained and the safety of the food product is ensured. The FSSAI has also asked the e-commerce entities to redress any consumer complaints and notify the sellers/brand owners/importers/manufacturers to resolve the issue expeditiously.