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Online grocers, food delivery startups face stricter norms

Online grocers, food delivery startups face stricter norms
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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued revised guidelines tightening scrutiny of e-commerce food companies such as online grocers BigBasket and Grofers as well as food delivery players Swiggy and Zomato, a media report said.

The new guidelines are aimed at preventing any compromise on last-mile delivery and safety of food products, The Economic Times reported, citing a top FSSAI official.

According to the guidelines, food products offered for sale are liable to sampling at any point in the supply chain. The norms also require companies in this segment to provide an indicative image of the food item on the platform to help customers recognise the product. 

Besides, online food companies need to disclose all the mandatory information imposed by the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act to users before purchase. They are mandated to deliver only fresh food to consumers and the products need to have a remaining shelf life of 30% or 45 days before expiry at the time of delivery.

The guidelines mandate food delivery service providers to employ trained personnel for last-mile delivery and ensure safety of food products at the time of delivery.

The guidelines are aimed at building confidence in the e-commerce food business sector and increase its credibility, FSSAI chief executive Pawan Agarwal was cited as saying in the report.

Swiggy said in a statement it is committed to working with its restaurant partners and the FSSAI to bring the necessary confidence and control to ensure there is no compromise in last-mile delivery and safety of food.

"Swiggy has been a strong proponent of every measure and guideline that prioritises food safety and hygiene. Earlier in the year, in full compliance of Food Safety and Standards Act and Rules, all unregistered restaurants were disabled from Swiggy," it said. 

Zomato said it is are already working with the FSSAI and has delisted thousands of restaurants from its food ordering platform over the past few months. 

"While we are already compliant with the mandatory directives in the FSS Act, we will work with FSSAI on any measures required to drive the development in the ecosystem,” it said.

Email queries to BigBasket, Grofers and the FSSAI didn't elicit any response till the time of filing this article.

The guidelines don’t replace the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 in any way. The Act’s definition of ‘food business’ includes any entity transporting food. So, companies such as Zomato and Swiggy would fall under this definition.

In February last year, the FSSAI had passed non-binding guidelines applicable to e-commerce food business operators. The guidelines stated that food business operators must obtain a licence for the entire supply chain and that food sold by entities under their control must satisfy the requirements of the Act.

Under the guidelines, the e-commerce food delivery companies must also ensure the safety of food and that deliveries are undertaken by trained personnel. They must sign an agreement with sellers to ensure that they comply with the Act. Sellers on e-commerce platforms must display their registration under the Act.

Earlier this year, the FSSAI issued the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Amendment Regulations, 2018, to tweak the licensing regulations of 2011. 

According to the amendment regulations, companies such as Zomato and Swiggy operate on a marketplace business model and provide a digital network to act as a facilitator between buyers and sellers. These e-commerce marketplaces provide warehousing, logistics, order fulfilment, payment and delivery services. But they do not stock inventory, unlike say the fast-food chain McDonald’s.

The amendment regulations list a number of compliance requirements for online food delivery companies. These include obtaining a licence; ensuring that sellers on their platforms display their licences; signing an agreement with sellers to ensure their compliance with the Act; ensuring that delivery is undertaken by trained staff and no misleading information is displayed on their platforms; and delisting sellers non-compliant with the Act.

Recently, the FSSAI directed Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda and UberEats to delist non-licensed operators following several consumer complaints over substandard food. In September, Zomato said that it would take restaurants that don't furnish the FSSAI's licence off its platform.

Further, the FSSAI had earlier stated that some e-commerce platforms had themselves not obtained a licence and that these e-commerce food aggregators would undergo an audit to ensure they comply with food safety and hygiene standards.

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