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Online Food Retail Businesses

Online Food Retail Businesses

Selling Food Online

The sale of food via e-commerce platforms, such as online marketplaces, bricks and clicks1, social media platforms and food delivery platforms, is increasingly prevalent in Singapore. E-commerce platforms2 which act as intermediaries between online food sellers 3 and customers do not carry out any handling, cooking or other forms of food processing. Hence, they do not require a licence from SFA to operate.

Food sellers who sell their products on e-commerce platforms have the responsibility to ensure that the food they sell are obtained from SFA-regulated sources and are prepared/processed in a safe and hygienic manner that does not compromise food safety. For more information, please refer to the guidelines here.

Although they do not require a SFA licence to operate, food sellers are still subject to food safety requirements of  the Sale of Food Act (SOFA) and Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA). SFA will take enforcement  for  any infringement of these requirements.

Refers to business models which operate both online and offline, i.e. a business which has physical retail premises and also sells its products online

2 Refers only to platforms which conduct activities related to the buying and selling of goods via the Internet

3 Refers to anyone who sells food over the Internet, via e-commerce platforms, including livestreamers.

Key food safety regulations

 Section 15 SOFA: Selling unsafe or unsuitable food

(1)  A person must not sell food that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is unsafe.

(2)  A person must not sell food that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is unsuitable.

(3)  For the purposes of subsection (2), it is immaterial whether the food concerned is safe

 Section 40 EPHA: Articles of food unfit for human consumption

(1) No person shall, without lawful excuse, have in his possession for sale by retail any article of food intended for human consumption which is unsound or unfit for human consumption. 


Industry Standard to Guide Sale of Food Products on Online Platforms to Ensure Food Safety

The Singapore Standard (SS) 687: 2022 (Guidelines for food e-commerce) (“standard”) was launched on 13 Jan 2023. The standard covers best practices and critical activities for the food e-commerce industry to further improve the safety of food products sold via online platforms. The standard also provides guidance to e-commerce players, namely, the online food businesses/sellers, e-commerce platform and food delivery companies, on their roles and responsibilities related to food safety and providing information to consumers.

The standard was jointly developed by a multi-stakeholder Working Group comprising Food Industry Asia (FIA) and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), in partnership with the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) and various industry players such as local food e-commerce platforms, food delivery platforms, and supermarket retailers. The Working Group was appointed by the Singapore Standards Council (SSC), overseen by Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG).

Online food businesses/sellers, e-commerce platforms and food delivery companies are encouraged to adopt the standard. The standard lays out the responsibility of food e-commerce players to ensure the safety of the food sold online. It details:

  1. The roles and responsibilities of respective stakeholders throughout the different stages of the food e-commerce supply chain.
  2. Responsibility of ensuring food traceability and initiating timely recall which may include information to be displayed at the point of sale and delivery.
  3. Ownership of managing incidents such as consumers’ complaints, food safety incidents or food recalls.

The standard also aims to improve the end consumers’ experience by:

  1. strengthening the credibility and trustworthiness of food e-commerce platforms and food business operators (FBOs).
  2. encouraging each stakeholder within the food e-commerce supply chain to conduct the necessary due diligence through the proper implementation of food safety practices as part of their operations (e.g., displaying food product information online, standardised food traceability and product recall procedures, etc.) so as to improve food safety standards.

SS 687 on Guidelines for food e-commerce can be purchased from the Singapore Standards eShop here. More details on the standard are available in the Frequently Asked Questions. 

Food Delivery Services

Food delivery services generally refer to the delivery of cooked food from retail establishments to the consumer. As operators of food delivery services do not carry out any handling, cooking or other forms of processing of food, they currently do not require a licence to operate.

Under the Sale of Food Act (SOFA) and Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA), operators are responsible for ensuring that the food they deliver is transported in a manner that does not compromise food safety.

Food delivery workers are not directly involved in the preparation of food, such as the washing and cutting of raw food, and the processing of ready-to-eat food. Therefore, they are not required to attend the Basic WSQ Food Safety Course.

Singapore Standard – SS 672 : 2021 Guidelines on delivery of ready-to-eat food

Food delivery operators are encouraged to adopt the Singapore Standard SS 672 : 2021 Guidelines on delivery of ready-to-eat (RTE) food.  The standard describes the best practices for delivering RTE food and can be purchased from the Singapore Standard eShop from this link:

Group-Buy Activities Involving Food Products

Group-buy activities typically involve a middleperson (i.e. a group-buy organiser) coordinating orders and payments between individuals and local suppliers. Such activities are considered private arrangements among members of the public and do not require a licence. However, group-buy organisers purchasing food products from overseas sources are considered importers and are required to be licensed with SFA to bring commercial shipments of food into Singapore. 

Group-buy organisers who are handling food product purchases are encouraged to be mindful of the food safety practices to ensure that food safety risks are managed. 

Advisory for consumers
Consumers should exercise caution when choosing to purchase food products via group-buys. If in doubt, they should seek clarification from the group-buy organisers. For more information, consumers can refer to the consumer advisory for group-buy activities.

Food Safety is a Joint Responsibility

Consumers have an important role to play to ensure food safety. Consumers can do their part by equipping themselves with knowledge of food safety risks, adopting good food safety practices and exercising discretion when buying from home-based food businesses, or any other food businesses that are not licensed by SFA. They should be aware of the risks associated with consuming food bought online or from HBFBs and seek more information (e.g. when the food was produced, the environment where it was produced) before deciding whether to make a purchase. Consumers should not buy or consume any food if they are doubtful of its source and safety. They can refer to these 6 tips on how to make good purchase decisions when buying food online.

Consumers who come across any potentially errant food sellers on e-commerce platforms should report them to SFA via the online feedback form. As part of the enquiry and gathering of evidence, SFA may engage the feedback provider for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions

1)       Are online food sellers that sell via e-commerce platforms required to be licensed by SFA? How does SFA ensure that food sold online is safe for consumption?

While online food sellers are not required to obtain a licence from SFA to operate online, they are required to comply with food safety requirements of the Sale of Food Act (SOFA) and Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA). Sale of food that is unsafe, unsuitable or unfit for consumption is not permitted and SFA will take enforcement action against infringements.

However, those that also operate a business at a physical premises (e.g. restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, food manufacturers) or import food into Singapore must obtain the necessary licences or import permits.


2)     Who should adopt SS 687 : 2022 Guidelines for food e-commerce?

FBOs involved in the sale of food online in Singapore are encouraged to adopt this standard. FBOs include:

i.  Online food businesses/sellers selling through e-commerce platforms or through their own business platforms or websites;

ii.  E-commerce platform operators; and

iii. Logistics service providers involved in the delivery of online purchased food to consumers.


3)     Why adopt the SS 687 : 2022 Guidelines for food e-commerce?

Food safety is a joint responsibility between the government, the food industry and consumers. FBOs are encouraged to adopt the standard to improve the safety of food products sold via online platforms.

Through implementing the industry best practices outlined in the standard as part of their business operations, FBOs can improve the management of online sales of food products and strengthen their readiness to promptly respond to food safety incidents. The standard will also see standardisation of information displayed at points of sale and delivery, allowing consumers to be more empowered to make better informed purchase decisions. In turn, this will provide greater food safety assurance to consumers.