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Building a city of food security that satisfies residents

Dec 8, 2017

The Shanghai Municipal People’s Government’s Information Office held a press conference on November 8 on the efforts to build a city of food security that satisfies its residents. Following are the highlights:

 

Xun Kunlin, vice mayor, Shanghai Municipal Government

Yang Jinsong, director, Shanghai Food and Drug Administration

 

Jiefang Daily: I want to ask about the problems with some “famous online stores” which were exposed recently. This is a first case of its kind in that a store, which should have applied for a business permit first, becomes famous and popular amid media publicity. Not unnaturally, it is discovered to be without the relative qualifications, or fails to find its business classification because it’s too new a business such as the unmanned noodle restaurant. The second kind of cases are those restaurants which became famous online and then concentrated on making more money while ignoring corresponding food security management, thus resulting in the occurrence of food poisoning incidents. With regard to the food security incidents hitting the Internet in recent days, could you please tell us about the follow-up handling of the cases? Have you discussed the classification and granting of permit to the unmanned noodle restaurant? As far as persistent-efficiency management is concerned, how can one regulate such popular online restaurants scientifically and according to standards?

 

Xu Kunlin: Online food ordering has long been a key area of customer complaints, and also the focus of our work. We have taken a series of measures to handle this problem, including risk assessment and strengthening corporate governance. The regulation of offline business is the most important. We will strengthen supervision of unlicensed catering enterprises and improve the environment management. The second is to implement the main body responsibility of the online platforms. The FDA has realized real-time connection between sharing of government supervision data and online food ordering platforms, so as to better implement the main body responsibilities. Under these circumstances, any unlicensed catering enterprises will be severely punished.

 

Yang Jinsong: The media and public have been concerned with these popular online restaurants. As an emerging business, it’s also a key point of supervision by the Shanghai FDA. Just now you mentioned the popular and problematic enterprises. Firstly, these enterprises become Internet hits as they are popular with the public, which points to market demand. To reassure residents, we will still stick to the red line of food security. Meanwhile, in the course of our supervision, we also found that the existing supervision measures and modes do not completely adapt to the current situation, or the full coverage of supervision has not been achieved. Take, for instance, the cases you just mentioned. The municipal and district watchdogs have worked together to handle them in accordance with corresponding laws and regulations. Judging from these cases, the “central kitchen” program should be an effective measure to solve the problems, including those of the small and scattered food processing businesses, the lack of unified management standards, and ineffective supervision measures. Centralized management of the central kitchen and professionalized delivery are guarantees of food safety. However, even with the good starting point and these measures, if the main body responsibility of enterprises are not implemented, and daily regulation is carried out insufficiently, along with imbalanced personnel quality and some imperfection in the delivery stages, this can give rise to great risks. To perfectly fulfill our tasks, we should pay close attention to the many details and links. With those problematic businesses, we are taking follow-up action in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, including suspension of business, rectification and administrative punishments.

 

A lot of new business forms have emerged in recent times. A case in point is the noodle restaurant you just mentioned. As a new modern food business model and form, it has become a hot topic among the public. Of course, it is still at a preliminary stage. We are also paying close attention to it through a variety of channels. From the perspective of the Food and Drug Administration, in the process of deepening reforms and promoting “decentralization, just supervision and high-efficiency service”, the emergence of new forms of food supply service can help better meet the demands of various groups of people. We have always held a supportive attitude. In Shanghai, an open, diverse and tolerant mega-city, the diversified catering experience will be welcomed by the public. While we are greatly pleased to witness the boost in the business, we still need to adhere to our principle and to the bottom line of food safety.

 

Since it is a new thing, some laws and regulations, existing regulatory methods and models are comparatively lagging behind, and not even well-targeted. While we are supportive of its development, we also hope that enterprises can be self-disciplined in sticking to the safety bottom-line and study how to better meet market demand. After this incident was publicized, the media gave it much coverage, and we also made further investigation. The unmanned noodle restaurant was not the first such case in Shanghai. As early as in 2014 when a vending machine for freshly squeezed orange juice appeared on the streets of Shanghai, we did not simply suspend the business once it became clear that it did not have relevant legal support, but instead tried to conduct research targeting the business on the basis of existing laws and regulations. With safety as the bottom line, we organized experts to assess the potential risks of the entire production process and services, working out guiding opinions based on the professional analysis of techniques and craft, which has won recognition from enterprises. The company improved the processing technology, re-adjusted their equipment before re-releasing the vending machines into the market. So far they have been running smoothly for nearly three years, with no security issues.

 

I’d like to inform our reporter friends that recently we have joined hands with the Health and Family Planning Commission, and especially with the local standard-making departments to formulate the "Sanitation Specification for Self-service Ready-to-Eat Food Production and Operation" on the basis of the previous pilots, aiming to sum up some regularity and technical requirements to guide the development of this new business form. And this project has been approved by the local government. Thank you.

 

Shanghai Radio: I have a question for Vice Mayor Xu. For a long time in the past, the swill-cooked dirty oil was a subject of public fear and concern. The city has set up a closed-loop management mechanism. We have reported on the pilot project of transforming the swill-cooked dirty oil into biological diesel which is supplied for vehicles. In some Sinopec gas stations, ordinary vehicles can fill their tank with this bio-diesel. But it’s a pity that there are only two such stations in the city, and they are located relatively far from downtown. After the media coverage of such projects, we received a lot of phone calls, enquiring whether there would be more such gas stations. I want to ask about the next moves on such projects. Besides, with the disposal of the swill-cooked dirty oil, the government is providing some subsidies and mechanical support. After the project is commercialized, will there be a linkage between production and gas price? Or under what condition will the enterprises make money with the project; for only with subsidies, this project cannot go far.

 

Xu Kunlin: This is a very important issue. We are also trying our best to push forward the project of processing kitchen waste into bio-diesel, which helps solve a long-plagued problem. We started the corresponding work several years ago and are continuing to push ahead with it. The first is the unified collection and transportation of the oil; the city has developed relevant management measures. There are so many catering enterprises throughout the city, and the kitchen waste oil they produce must be collected every day. The facilities have been installed to separate the oil from the water, so that the waste oil will not go to the trench. The Municipal Administration of City Appearance and Environmental Sanitation has selected through tender 18 companies all over the city, which do the unified collection and transportation, striving to gather all that can be collected. The project has been piloted for about four years. Now bio-diesel is used in some public transport buses, such Route No.104, which has run for more than 15 million kilometers with the new kind of fuel. Now the bio-diesel is filled in buses in accordance with the national standard, which is B5, and we still continue to test B10, B20. The so-called 5, 10 and 20, is the percentage of bio-diesel added to the normal gas. Five means 5 percent is added, B10 meaning 10 percent. A total of 5.09 million liters of bio-diesel has been used on buses. During the about four years of operation, a lot of technical indexes have reached the national standards, including the impact on the engine, and emissions.

 

At present, we are working on the promotion of the use of bio-diesel. Since we expanded its use to social vehicles last month, we received reports almost every day, which indicated good feedback. According to statistics, as of yesterday, 458 vehicles have tried bio-diesel, among which 424 are social vehicles and the others environment-friendly autos. More than 30,000 liters have been filled. Our next move is to enlarge the scope of the pilot, so as to convenience truck and diesel-vehicle drivers. Some gas stations are located at far-away areas, so we want to pilot bio-diesel in locations where trucks can conveniently pull up. Meanwhile, we are also trying to promote it to transport vessels. Marine vessels apply different standards. We have conducted a closed-loop management with the annual production of more than 30,000 tons of bio-diesel to ensure safety.

 

The second question, how to ensure persistent-efficiency operation of the project. If they cannot make money, companies do not have the motivation to do business. In the international market, the gas is now priced at a little more than US$50 a barrel, so the processing enterprises are still running at a loss. Government departments are also studying the mechanism, and relative policy will be rolled out at the end of the year. We will work out a level for the government subsidy. When the international oil price is lower than the level, the subsidy will work, otherwise, the enterprises will be able to operate normally. I have learned from the 18 companies that the cost of the collection and storage is about 3,000 yuan a ton. While the collection and transportation business is profitable, the processing enterprises cannot make money. So we need to establish a long-efficiency mechanism that allows closed-loop operation.

 

CCTV: The report from the 19th National Congress of CPC put forward food safety strategy, aiming at making the public comfortable with what they eat. How will Shanghai implement the strategy, from how many aspects and with what steps?

 

Xu Kunlin: This is also a very important issue we have been thinking about. The whole country is working on implementing the food safety strategy, and seriously implementing the "four most stringent" requirements (the most stringent standards, the most stringent regulation, the most severe punishments, and the most serious accountability) of the central government. We must strictly control every line of defense from the farmland to the dining table, and earnestly ensure food safety. We should boost prevention measures at the source while strengthening regulation of the production process and control of risks. Specifically, for example, to reduce vegetable pesticide residues, we should strengthen regulation in the field. As long as the sources are under control, the dishes on our table will not be much problematic. However, this is not the case with aquatic products. Even if they come from clean sources, some things can be added during processing. The same is with other food processing businesses; there should be strict regulation on additives. Therefore we will conduct strict regulation over every step of food production, vigorously promote standardization of management, and consolidate the integrity of the business.

 

The first is about the issue of integrity. We expect popular online enterprises to be really popular. Now the country has just issued the revised Anti-Unfair Competition Law. We know that the brushers (those who make up unreal online deals) will be severely punished, so in the future we can be assured that popular online enterprises are really reliable. Meanwhile, while we encourage the innovation of new forms of business, we should not lose the safety bottom line. We should not only consolidate the achievements of constructing reliable supermarkets, reliable restaurants, and reliable canteens, but also strengthen the remediation of unlicensed businesses, which will be our next focus of work. We have made great progress in our work targeting “five violations and four musts”, with almost 60 percent of them ferreted out or remedied. With further efforts next year, some districts will basically be able to eliminate unlicensed businesses. However, this work is also much difficult, since, as always, the most difficult part of a work always comes later.

Second, we will improve administrative law enforcement and its link with criminal justice, enhance trans-departmental and trans-regional law enforcement and strictly crack down on violation of food safety regulations. In terms of the link with criminal justice, the Shanghai FDA does quite well because its Vice Director Zhang Zhunmin comes directly from the Public Security Bureau.

Third, we need to stick to law-based administration and carry out our responsibilities. We need to elevate the comprehensive supervision capacity of food safety, set up a system that covers the whole supervision process, including improved information notification, host of conferences and consultations, emergency handling and joint law enforcement for synergy. We also need to further improve related supporting systems to make them more operational and flexible.

Fourth, we need to use technology to aid our work, enhance capacity building of food safety examination agencies, speed up smart supervision and improve the building of a traceability system. A task force has been set up with staff from all related departments to ensure traceability and accountability.

Lastly, we need to strengthen efforts to popularize knowledge, give full play to community and third party management, enhance smart supervision and make joint efforts and interaction so as to elevate the food safety management system and its capacity and make food safe to eat. Also we are working on supply-side reforms to increase the quality of our food. Thank you.

Eastday.com: My question is about takeaway. Online food order platform is very popular now. Despite management methods for online catering released in Shanghai, restaurants without license exist on some platforms. Some chronic problems are still left unsolved. The case of a delivery man eating customer’s food happened not so long ago. Do we have targeted measures for supervising related problems? Thanks.

Xu Kunlin: This is our top issue lately. The NPC and the CPPCC both have put the focus on the online food ordering issue. This is a new area. We are taking corresponding measures. Solving issues concerning restaurants without license is the most basic part. We need to tackle the issue offline so that we can better manage issues online. Measures we have include data sharing, information sharing and the use of the Internet. In this way, we know which restaurants are qualified and which are now under supervision. And we will punish those without license on getting public tip-offs. We will mainly tackle the issues offline.

Regarding the delivery man eating customer’s food, the incident did not take place in Shanghai but the company headquarters is registered here. We met with company officials; we need to shoulder responsibilities as the supervising agency of companies’ place of registration. Companies need to draft corresponding standards and take targeted measures as well. For example, food boxes need to be sealed. Let me invite Jinsong to provide some details.

Yang Jinsong: We have a big online food ordering platform with a large number of orders. It is developing rapidly. In Shanghai, we have 60,000 to 70,000 restaurants in total. According to the three biggest online food ordering platforms, meituan, ele.me and baidu, there are more than 30,000 online restaurants. Online demand is nearly equal to offline demand. So obviously we need targeted measures for supervision. Although the incident happened in another place, the company is registered in Shanghai and thus needs to carry out its corporate responsibility to ensure food safety. And we need targeted measures for different situations.

First, we have drafted some rules and standards. For instance, one chapter in the Shanghai Food Safety Regulations involves online food management. So we have rules to follow in this regard. In cooperation with the Shanghai Communications Administration, we have released the Opinions on Enhancing Management of Third-Party Online Food Ordering Platform and the Management Methods for Supervising Online Catering Service. We guide companies concerned based on the regulations. Recently we are encouraging linking online food ordering with government application data. Now our task is to implement related regulations and enhance law enforcement.

Second, in terms of linking data, we are working on three aspects to enhance the use of big data. Firstly, categorize food companies on the platforms, supervise the big data and let companies carry out their online corporate responsibilities. Secondly, we need to monitor companies offline so they can improve their operations online. Companies without license must be withdrawn from the platform immediately. And companies must conform to related regulations on food delivery. Supervising agencies should share license information with the platform. Once violations are found out, they need to take measures to cancel the companies’ licenses right away.

Third, we need to perform targeted and key inspections according to analysis of the big data we collect. Since this year, spot checks have been done on 1,815 food items on the platform. The pass rate is 89.5 percent, 6 percent higher than last year. But if we leave the remaining 10 percent items unsupervised, new problems will break out. The items under spot checks are mostly cold food and raw food. Additionally, 85 percent of companies publicize their licenses online, which is an improvement over the past years. Despite all our measures, we need to meet new demands posed by the changing dynamics of online food providers.

Xinhua News Agency: I’d like to ask one more question about Internet supervision. Market entities are increasing dramatically. It is hard to cover food safety supervision solely by increasing the number of supervisors. Is there any technology for smart and scientific supervision as a way to supplement the current supervision or will it be the major approach in the future?

Yang Jinsong: I agree with you. Use of big data and other new technologies will complement our current supervision. In the long term, it will be our major approach.

To be specific, we have tried some useful approaches in recent years in informationization and smart supervision of food safety issues, which have provided a good foundation for our future work. We have used three years to set up a citywide supervision information and service platform for supervising food safety, which has integrated 12 elements, including daily management, administrative penalty, supervision, spot checks and report and complaint handling. It is a comprehensive platform for citywide safety supervision and related analysis and application, providing strong support for decision-making and emergency handling.

Second, we have also increased our input in timely monitoring of producers of high-risk food, key market links and major areas. We have more than 1,600 food producers citywide with 195 so called high-risk ones accounting for 12 percent of the total. After two years of efforts, we now have real-time monitoring of 190 of them, which is 97.4 percent of the total. By the end of this year, we will cover all of them. We have created a community as well including our mobile application. We encourage residents and our supervisors to report cases of violations to us promptly so that we can handle the cases in time. These approaches make our work more targeted and functional. Zhuomuniao, an application we launched this year, enables timely photo taking and uploading. From July to September, we received 553 requests with 161 complaints and 392 consulting cases, accounting for 29 percent and 70 percent, respectively. We answered 65 percent of the requests. This application is therefore a good way of assistance and supervision. We will ensure wider use of the application among residents.

Third, Vice Mayor Xu says the data we collect from the platform highlights the food traceability system. We have set up a sound and efficient traceability system for food in Shanghai covering 20 major food categories. Now 160 million pieces of information from over 30,000 companies have been collected, which is 86 percent of all reported companies. Now another issue is how we analyze and integrate all the information we put into the system for further use. We will make the information public for supervision from society, which will create a safe environment for food supply.

STV: Regarding the food poisoning case involving Shanghai Stock Exchange staff last Friday, official statistics of different agencies are not consistent. The Pudong Market Supervision Agency says 16 people while Shanghai Stock Exchange says more than 30 people ate the tainted food. Many people are suspicious about misinformation from official statistics. How do you see this?

 

Yang Jinsong: First, the supervision agency did not hold back any information. It carried out an inspection immediately after becoming aware of the case and ordered the restaurant involved to suspend its operation. The statistics are inconsistent because there is disparity between the number of people going to the hospital and those that received epidemiological survey. We will continue to enhance the ability of grassroots staff in handling cases on the spot and in disclosing information. We have already asked the Pudong Market Supervision Agency to report cases on time, enhance market supervision and professional supervision of food safety in future.