Online sale of food, what legal requirements should be met?
The online sale of food has been increasing exponentially in recent years given the ease that companies were putting and the advantages that it brings to consumers: you do not have to leave home, it is comfortable, you can choose as if you were physically in the store, you can compare prices, there are comments from other customers etc. This growth in online food sales, with the government’s declaration of alarm by COVID-19 has become a necessity for many companies.
Thus, while essential shops such as supermarkets, fruit stores, fishmongers, etc. may remain open to the public, many others dedicated to the food sector, not because they are not considered convenience goods. This is the case with herbalists, dietetics, food supplements, etc. For this sector of food companies, online food sales have become their only sales channel. Food business operators who market their products via the Internet and the food products they market must comply with all established Community and national food safety standards set out below.
In this sense, food products and operators are subject to official controls to verify compliance with the regulations and that if it is detected that it is not complied with food safety regulations, the operator is responsible and will be applicable Law 17/2011 on food safety and nutrition, may be imposed penalties of up to 600,000 euros and the possibility of closure of the establishment or website that it manages or uses.
What requirements do you have to meet for online food sales? Like any food operator you must meet certain requirements, such as being registered in the Food Safety Registry, and meeting minimum food safety requirements, to ensure that the product you sell is safe and does not pose a risk to the consumer. Likewise, in the case of certain foods, such as food supplements, the first placing on the market must be notified.
The company that must notify the food supplement is the one who puts it on the market for the first time. However, the seller of food supplements, even if he is not responsible for their notification, must ensure that the food supplement has been notified by the person responsible. There are, in any case and as we discussed in another post, problems and challenges of this type of companies that sell food supplements online.
- Companies selling food online must also comply with all general food safety requirements:
- They will not market food that is not safe.
- They shall ensure traceability at all stages.
- Ensure that the food they sell meets the requirements of the relevant food legislation.
- They will proceed to the withdrawal of products that do not meet the safety requirements completely and will cooperate in the measures taken by the manufacturers or the competent authorities.
- When they consider that one of the foods they have sold may be harmful to people’s health, they should immediately inform the competent authorities
Regarding storage, transportation and delivery requirements,it must be ensured that the shipping system used for perishable foods will keep food at a safe temperature during transportation and delivery to the consumer. If perishable food is not kept at a safe temperature during storage, transport and delivery, pathogenic bacteria can increase in number or produce toxins, making food unsafe for consumption. In this regard, the temperature requirements for food are:
- Chilled food: 4 °C or less
- Frozen foods: -18 °C or less
- Hot food: 65 °C or above
All food companies must be able to ensure traceability one step forward and one step backward. You should be able to identify all the food companies that supply you with food and what foods they supply you. This information needs to be properly documented.
What information is required to appear on the website? The website should contain both company information and food information on the products sold, and must comply with loyal information practices. With regard to the information of the company and in accordance with Law 34/2020, are services of the information society and electronic commerce:
- The name or company name
- The residence or domicile or, failing that, the address of one of its permanent establishments in Spain
- The email address
- Any other data that allows direct and effective communication with him.
- The details of their registration in the Commercial Register in which, if applicable, they are registered or of that other public register in which they were registered for the acquisition of legal personality or for the sole purpose of advertising.
- If your activity is subject to prior administrative authorization: details of the authorization and identification of the competent body responsible for its supervision If a regulated profession is exercised: data provided for in Article 10 (d) of Law 34/2002.
- Tax Identification Number (TIN)
- Clear and accurate information on the price of the product or service, indicating whether or not it includes taxes and shipping costs
- Codes of conduct to which it is attached and how to consult them electronically.
Regarding the information to be provided to the consumer, in accordance with the provisions of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011, when food is offered for distance sale, the person responsible for the presence and accuracy of the food information provided is the food business operator whose name or company name is marketed the food, while the responsibility for providing the mandatory food information before the purchase is made rests with the owner of the website. Thus, the consumer should receive with the online sale of food the same information about the label of the food product as if he bought it in a physical establishment.
Furthermore, the placing on the market of foodstuffs for the treatment or cure of diseases deceives consumers and is prohibited, only authorised nutrition and health claims may be used and must comply with Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. To make a nutrition or health claim for the food sold online, it must be checked that the declaration is authorised and that the food meets the conditions of use. Notwithstanding all of the above, if you only use the website or social media to advertise food, without providing ease of purchase, you do not need to provide all mandatory food information. However, the information must not be misleading and must respect the rules on nutritional and health claims.
Online sale of food through sales platforms or social networks The selling platforms (Amazon, Alibaba, Ebay etc.) and social networks generally act as intermediaries and on their websites they can sell and buy food legally, but they are not responsible for the products marketed by their suppliers. As a seller you must comply with the above requirements as a food operator, and provide the platform with all the data. In the event of any claim, the responsibility lies with the seller and not on the platform or social network.