Dzulfiqar Fathur Rahman, Jakarta – There is growing concern that food products sold online that do not comply with health and safety regulations may pose a risk to the online shopping boom during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a researcher with the Center of Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).
Felippa Amanta, the head of research at CIPS, said on Tuesday that the challenge of maintaining food safety for products bought online was also related to weak monitoring in the market and a lack of traceability.
"One study found that 35 percent of processed foods on ecommerce platforms did not have a permit or the required food labeling," Felippa said in a virtual discussion. "This causes concern because if the food is not registered, it tends to have a higher risk related to food safety."
Of more than 23,000 samples of both registered and unregistered food products, half of the unregistered ones failed to meet food safety standards, said Felippa, quoting 2019 data from the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM). Of the registered products, only 14 percent did not meet the standards.
"The complicated process of obtaining permits also hinders food sellers from registering because sometimes this process takes quite a significant amount of time and money, especially for small businesses," Felippa said.
The pandemic has accelerated consumers' shift to online shopping during the health crisis. According to the Global Consumer Insights Survey 2020 by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 69 percent of Indonesian respondents stated that they were buying more groceries online following the implementation of social restrictions to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
Rosel Lavina, the vice president of corporate affairs for the food ecosystem at ride-hailing firm Gojek, said the company's food delivery service GoFood had booked a 20 percent increase in transactions since the beginning of the pandemic in March, partly propelled by the rise in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in the food and beverages industry.
During the pandemic, 94 percent of new merchants partnering with Gojek were micro enterprises, said Rosel, quoting a recent study by the Demography Institute at the University of Indonesia. Of the total of the newly partnered merchants, 43 percent were new entrepreneurs.
"They [new culinary MSMEs] have two tasks right now. First, how they develop their business, and second, how their products can earn trust regarding hygiene and safety," said Rosel.
Rosel also said Gojek prepared 130 posts across the cities within the company's operational reach to provide its partnering drivers with safety kits and disinfectant spray for their motorbikes to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission. In addition, the company has also issued new instructions advising merchants to improve their food packaging.
BPOM issued in April Regulation No. 8/2020 on the monitoring of food and medicine circulating online. The regulation, which came into force in July, requires both sellers and platforms to ensure that food products have a food label, which includes ingredients, net weight and names and addresses of the producers or importers.
"This is a source of information for consumers who will eat the products so they can prevent unwanted consequences. For example, if someone has an allergy to certain products and there is clear information on the composition, they can avoid those products," said Ema Setyawati, the director of high risk and new technology food at BPOM.
Ema also said BPOM found 1,152 illegal food products in an investigation last year, the majority of which were sold online.