Expert Opinion: Control of foods sold online 

By Anne Betty – AB Food Nutrition

Anne Betty AB Food Nutrition FDMB North West

I came across an interesting new report from The European Commission last month that highlighted the limited official controls on food sold over the internet. Now, if you were in attendance at the FDMB Live event back in March, you may remember me saying, during my presentation, that the regulations governing food & drink labelling also extend to distance selling / selling online and so the information presented online and on social media needs to be compliant in just the same way.  

Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular and brings opportunities to widen the market and increase sales for new and growing businesses who are producing from their own kitchen – right through to national multiple retailers. I’m sure many of you are already using e-commerce or at least thinking about it, and with no surprise as given the changes in consumer behaviour, fast growth is anticipated in the coming years for goods sold over the internet. 

Which brings me back to the report! During 2017, a series of fact-finding missions of food sold online from Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom found that non-compliances were mostly related to labelling and health claim requirements. 

If a non-compliance is identified, the competent authority generally issues advice for corrective action and may set a deadline. Additionally, they can issue formal notices/warnings and prosecution. If the food business operator selling online continues to remain non-compliant, the authorities may inform the webhost who would then be obliged to remove or disable public access to the specific site/platform. 

The report also highlighted the challenge to authorities in identifying unregistered food business operators, both due to a lack of resource, but also due to ease with which they can enter and exit the online marketplace. 

With that said, the authorities are always making continuous efforts to strengthen e-commerce control within the food sector and I would urge you all to check and revise your online information regularly, as Inspectors will be putting more focus on reviewing the online activity of food businesses in the future. 

Anne Betty is a freelance registered nutritionist and the owner of AB Food Nutrition, the Nutrition and Labelling Partner of FDMB North West.