The Food Safety Information Council (FSIC) said food is being prepared in unregulated home kitchens and offered on social media sites such as Facebook and WeChat.
The health promotion charity said the practice has increased significantly since the May 2020 lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic and includes a range of foods such as curries, spring rolls, dumplings, roasted meats and seafood.
Cathy Moir, chair of FSIC, said sales of unregulated food through social media sites are putting the public at risk, because it is unlikely they would meet the required food safety standards.
“We first became aware of this practice after media reports back in May 2020 and since then this practice has increased significantly with a range of high-risk foods such as curries, spring rolls, dumplings, roast meats, baked goods, pastas, seafood and even raw sausages being offered. These unregulated food sales are a considerable food safety risk. There is a real risk of food poisoning, which, in its worst form can have severe health consequences,” she said.
A growing trend
Home-based food businesses need to meet the same food safety requirements as other firms regardless of size or how often they sell food. Before starting, the business must notify the local council and some people may need formal training, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Moir said new sellers keep popping up, which is putting a considerable strain on health services.
“Government and local council enforcement agencies are clamping down on these unregistered food businesses, as and when they become aware of them. The rules around the production and selling of food are very strict for a reason, and anyone selling food must adhere to these regulations in their state or territory. This requires specific food safety knowledge and controls that cover hygiene, safe cooking and cooling rules, correct refrigeration, safe storage and transportation,” she said.
Another reason to be wary of such sales is a risk of allergic reactions, said Moir.
“Licensed sellers must also be aware of any labelling requirements, including the allergens in their food, so they can inform consumers. It is unlikely that food prepared in a home kitchen or backyard BBQ would meet these standards. If in doubt, don’t take the risk of buying unsafe food. Support your local food businesses instead, either in store or by ordering online.”
FSIC advised people to ask themselves if the location food is being collected from is a home address, does the vendor have a website or social media page that proves it is a licensed food business and, if not, is there proof they have a food license or are a registered business, and is the food cheaper than what would be expected.
For those considering turning a hobby into a business, the charity recommends contacting the local council for help, following online food safety training courses on its website and seeking advice from local farmers’ markets on how to sell food legally.
Picture in UK
The issue of compliance of online food sales on Facebook Marketplace or supplements on platforms such as Amazon has been raised in the past with investigations in the United Kingdom by the BBC and The Grocer.
In April this year, Newcastle City Council issued a warning about the safety of homemade food sold online.
The city has seen a rise in individuals advertising homemade food on social media sites and several instances of people offering to cook and deliver food to others for money. Those advertising food prepared at home were told to register as a business and not to gamble with people’s health.
Councilor Nick Kemp said the council appreciates the situation due to pandemic with people looking to occupy themselves, trying to help out communities, and looking for opportunities.
“But standards are in place to ensure food products are safe to consume, are made following strict hygiene regulations and is prepared to a standard that does not put people’s health at risk. So please realize that selling food from your home makes you as liable as any restaurant, café or shop for the quality of your products so it is important people stick to the regulations in place,” he said.
This trend prompted the Food Standards Agency to publish guidance in August for individuals starting food businesses from home.
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