In recent several years, ordering meal online has become quite popular in China. The majority of customer is young people, like students, office workers. Ordering meal online is very convenient, because you do not have to cook yourself or leave your house to restaurants. It’s time-saving. Meals are various, including fast food, snack and so forth. I used to eat in this way when I was a senior student in university. I was busy with my dissertation. Except that it was really slow sometimes, I felt good. However, is it reliable to order meals online?
Circumstance of online meal service in China
The market of online meal service has become more competitive. Eleme, Meituan, Baidu are three famous services currently, like Justeat in UK. Eleme has expanded to over 260 cities in China. It corporates with near 300 thousands of businesses. The total number of its customer has increased to 40 million. The industry has developed rapidly. The problems have also been discovered.
According to Food Safety Law of The PRC (2015), food suppliers must have the food licence, which means the quality of food products has been guaranteed. However, it was reported that near 60 proportion of businesses does not have the food licence; many have fake licence; less than 20 proportion of businesses has valid licence. Since the competitive market, in order to earn more profits, network platforms do not obey the law. A food license should be required when a new merchant registers on the website. However, some network platform workers go to small alleys to recruit small businesses which do not hold the licence, so as to increase the number of customers. This is mainly caused by reward and punishment system of network platforms. It could reflect the circumstance of the market. To some extent, the expansion of market is regarded as the most important, regardless of whether a business is eligible. The condition of these restaurants is quite worrying. Some online platforms stipulate business must have real restaurant where people can sit in and have meals, while lots of platforms do not have relevant rules. Many registered businesses do not have real restaurants. They only have a kitchen where they prepare meals for customers. Basically these places are small; cooking facilities are simple and crude; sanitary condition is poor. Many places locate in small alleys where the surround is very messy.
Food Safety Law of The PRC has been revised and become more rigorous. Why is this field problematic? Both platforms and the government did not take effective actions. Online platforms should take the main responsibility of the supervision of registered businesses. They should obey the food safety law strictly. They account for an increasing proportion of food industry. Under the severe situation of food safety, they need to be aware that only if they guarantee the quality of food can they develop stably. The platform need to appoint specific local department to supervise the quality of food. For example, when customers complain about food issues of online meal businesses, the specific department should tackle this. Otherwise, departments will shirk their responsibility. They do not want to deal with these issues.
As for the government, Food and Drug Administration and local authorities (local food and drug administration) is responsible for this field. It is similar with online platforms’ management. In many places, it does not appoint specific department within the administration to supervise online meal service. The Administration must pay more attention to this.
Making the comparison with UK
There are also many online platforms in UK. Justeat, originated from Denmark, currently it is the most popular online meal service in the United Kingdom. Other services include Hungry House, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut. These websites mainly provide fast food, like fish and chips, pizza, chicken, kebab, sushi, Chinese food.
In UK, basically, online meal providers have real restaurants. As it was mentioned, there are lots of Chinese online restaurants which merely have a kitchen for cooking. Generally, if one restaurant only has a kitchen, there always has hygiene problems. Most of these restaurants locate in small alleys. Not only the surround is messy, but also the place inside is dirty. These businesses cannot meet the hygiene standard.
In China, the mess circumstance of online food service has been criticized. Many small kitchens have been exposed because of hygiene problems. This has increased the burden on regulating the food safety issue in China. The public become worried about the quality of meals ordered online. In UK, there are few food safety issues of online meals than China. Fast-Food & Home-Delivery Outlets Report indicates that main health issues of take away foods are obesity and diabetes . Burgoine states that the exposure of take away outlets can increase the possibility of obesity.
Food Standard Agency is a unique department in UK. It is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food. There is a programme, Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. It is deployed by Food Standard Agency. This scheme evaluates the hygiene circumstance of all places where people eat, like restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, hotels, food shops. Local authorities cooperate with FHRS. FHRS has detailed elements to check the producing environment of businesses and then give a rating to them. People can search ratings of take away businesses on the food standard agency website. It is more meaningful for online customers. There are countless restaurants which can be chosen online. FHRS enables people to select a reliable restaurant and prevent themselves from problematic ones. In China, Food Safety Law is executed less completely. The supervision of take away field (even the whole food industry) is poor. Food and drug administration did not take effective measures to deal with hygiene problems. People cannot judge the hygiene standard of business on the ordering website, which only have brief introduction of business and modified pictures of meals.
Customers’ health is closely related to online meal businesses. It is very easy to order a meal online, while it is hard to guarantee the quality of the take away food. It can be seen that there is a large disparity between China and UK. Chinese government should learn UK’s experience and find out strategies suit for China’s situation. The government should regulate it effectively in a short term. Otherwise, there will be more illegal online restaurants, and more people’s health will be threatened. Additionally, this is a new food industry. It is easier to regulate now, or the circumstance might become more complicated. It will be more difficult to make changes.