Seeing that e-commerce of food products has taken off in a big way, the FSSAI held a meeting on 18 March 2016 with Food Business Operators. The meeting was called to draw up guidelines for FBOs that run food business activities through an e-commerce platform. The FSSAI has now issued draft guidelines and at the same time has made it clear that these guidelines do not in any way supplant the requirements prescribed in the FSSA, 2006 Rules or the FSSAI regulations. Suggestions and comments have been invited from all stakeholders.
The FSSAI has defined e-commerce as a buying and selling of goods and services over the digital and electronic media. An ‘E-commerce FBO’ is someone who is carrying out activities as mentioned in Section 3 (n) of the FSS Act, 2006 but through the medium of e-commerce. E-commerce FBOs basically operate through two models
- Market based model which is technology based network that facilitates commerce between buyer and seller and includes support services like warehousing, logistics, payment selection or any other service
- Inventory based model in an inventory of food products and services which are owned by the FBO and sold directly to customers through digital platform
The FSSAI has also clarified the various services that fall under the category of either of the two e-commerce business models. The guidelines are for the following types of e-commerce FBOs
- E-commerce entity that provides listing services for the benefit of the sellers/manufacturers/ restaurants on their digital commerce platform
- Sellers, vendors, importers, processors, packagers and manufacturers who display or offer their food products, including food services, sale of food or food ingredients for sale to customers through the market based model or inventory based model.
- Operating and providing storage and distribution services to sellers, vendors, importers or manufacturers of the food products listed on their digital marketplace
- Providing transportation services to sellers, vendors, importers or manufacturers of food products or providing last mile delivery transportation to the end consumers.
Registration and Licensing requirement
Except for the e-commerce entity providing listing services the other three types of e-commerce, all other categories of e-commerce; FBOs will be required to obtain license from the Central Licensing Authority for the entire supply chain which includes head office, registered office, transportation, storage, distribution etc. Those providing only listing services to the sellers, restaurants, vendors, importers, manufacturers, etc. of the food products listed do not require a license/ registration provided the activities they are carrying out on the platform are not any of those specified in Section 3(n) of the FSSA.
For the supply chain compliance requirement, the FBOs will have to sign an agreement with sellers. The agreement will state that the said ‘sellers’ are in compliance of the FSS Act and Rules and Regulations made thereunder. This means that the FBO or anyone on his behalf cannot sell any articles of food that are unsafe, misbranded, substandard or which contain extraneous matter and for which a license is required.
Guidelines for product listing and information
Some important aspects that the FSSAI guidelines point to are as follows
- Sellers who display or offer pre-packaged foods for sale on their e-commerce platforms must ensure that a legible and clear picture of the ‘principal display panel’ is visible to customers on the e-commerce platform
- Those selling ‘fresh’ produce will display an image of the produce so consumers can recognise the produce
- Sellers need to display on the platform their FSSAI license/ registration
- Consumers need to be provided with mandatory food information like storage conditions, disclaimers, warnings, etc. prior to buying the product
- The food products offered for sale by the FBO on digital platforms shall be liable to sampling at any point in the supply chain
- Seller, restaurant, vendor, processor, packager, manufacturer, etc. are responsible for following these guidelines and not the person who has merely listed them on their e-commerce platform.
- All the ‘sellers restaurants, vendors, processors, packagers, manufacturers, etc. will need to follow the hygiene and sanitary practices mentioned in Schedule 4 of the Food Safety and Standards( Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011
FSSAI has also made provisions for consumer complaints by instructing E-commerce FBOs that they will immediately notify any consumer complaints about the product quality, efficacy etc. to the sellers/importers/ manufacturers/ for resolution of the complaint. The consumer will also be directed to the consumer cell centre so the consumer can pursue the complaint. The sellers, vendors, importers or manufacturers will be liable to take action on the complaint. E-commerce FBO will cooperate and provide all the relevant information to the customer.
The FSSAI has also provided guidelines for recall of any food products that have been listed on the e-commerce platform. If these products are not in conformance of the FSS Act Rules or Regulations the e-commerce FBO will need to immediately delist them.