China’s booming online food delivery platforms are again facing another food safety scandal amid revelations that the industry’s registration safeguards can be easily circumvented through black market intermediaries that happen to be just as readily available online as the food platforms themselves.
An undercover investigation by Chinese investigative media organization Serious Case #47 showed that online restaurant certification can be bought from certain QQ groups for prices ranging from RMB 800 to 1,500 (USD 136 to USD 237).
According to an intermediary named Lin Feng, anyone with an identification number and a bank card can successfully apply for the fake credentials. As Lin boasted to the Serious Case #47 undercover reporter, “We can help you get a business license and a food license which will allow you to open a shop address within 300 meters of your actual operating location.”
But it’s not just licensing; the undercover investigation also revealed that opportunistic restaurateurs can get in on the lucrative online food delivery industry even without the hassle of certification, real or otherwise.
A Serious Case #47 reporter was able to track down a Beijing restaurant named Puhuang in Dongcheng District (shown above) that was willing to rent out part of its space for RMB 8,000 a month; in return, the renter would be able to operate as an online food provider underneath the Puhuang business license.
As it turned out, a total of 13 different online food providers have been sharing the same Puhuang business certification.
The undercover report comes six months after government regulations cracked down on lax registration and certification practices for Chinese O2O food platorms. Implemented by the national food and drug inspection agency, the regulations were specifically designed to outlaw “phantom” food providers that operated without business or food operator licenses.
In 2016, China’s online food delivery platform suffered a series of food safety scandals; Ele.me was caught using food providers without proper food catering certifications that ultimately resulted in a USD 19,000 fine, but the public backlash would finally hit its peak when 20 customers came down with food poisoning from ordering from Shanghai online food delivery platforms.
Besides government regulations, the industry vowed to clean up its act. Meituan Vice President Wang Puzhong claimed his company’s “Skynet system” ensured customer safety and satisfaction by automating the registration and verification of all of its food providers through network auditing and supervision. What’s more, Beijing’s O2O food delivery industry developed its own self-inspection systemlast September that would be readily available for the public to access.
Chinese online food delivery customers surged to 295 million users over the first half of 2017. Every single day, 1.8 million orders are in Beijing alone, culminating in daily sales worth about 100 million yuan.
Each of the top three Chinese O2O food providers has a massive online presence. Baidu Take-out offers 4,413 online food providers while Meituan and Ele.me offer 7,247, and 7,926 selections, respectively.
It’s hard not to imagine our lives nowadays without numerous apps and online services upon which we depend for conveniences on a daily basis. And yet, technological security features such as a facial recognition registration system failed to protect a 21-year-old stewardess who was raped and murdered by her Didi Hitch driver in what has become China’s current top trending public safety story.
Fair to say that Beijing residents fond of ordering take-out should limit their selections to brick-and-mortar locations that they know to actually exist.
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E-Mail: charlesliu1 (at) qq (dot) com