Quality of food ordered online must be more transparent

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/30 18:58:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

The rapid development of online food ordering services in fast-paced cities like Shanghai bring convenience to office workers that have no time to prepare their own meals on weekdays. However, concerns and complaints over the quality of takeout food continue.

Authorities in Putuo and Xuhui districts recently launched new measures to monitor online food delivery services. A new function named "sunshine kitchen" has been launched for consumers to monitor, in real-time live streaming, restaurant kitchens in Putuo, thepaper.cn reported on July 23. This will help consumers know a restaurant's hygiene and food preparation process before placing an order.

Likewise, the market regulation administration in Xuhui is promoting "food safety locks" to prevent food-delivery workers from opening meals while in transit. It was reported in June the first batch of 50,000 food locks were applied into use in shopping malls in Xuhui.

Personally, I am so glad to see authorities launch these two measures, as I believe they can effectively improve the quality of takeout meals.

One of my biggest concerns is whether my food is made from fresh ingredients. Over 10 percent of all takeout meals were found to be "unqualified" in spot checks organized by Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration in 2017, Knews reported in February.

I have been using Elema and Meituan for two years and thus far have encountered spoiled food twice. Once, I ordered pumpkin porridge. Though it looked fine, I found the flavor was very sour, not the normal sweet flavor. I contacted the seller, but staff only said they would refund me but failed to explain why their porridge was spoiled.

Based on this experience, I believe it is imperative to make restaurants webcast their preparation process, as this could curb merchants from using bad ingredients.  Apart from the quality of raw materials, my second concern is about the cooking environment and food preparation process of takeouts.

In 2016 and 2017, many kitchens employed by food ordering platforms reportedly were operating their businesses without proper licenses. Many takeout cooks were not wearing masks or proper clothes, according to reports, and their kitchens were filthy.

A journalist from CCTV found the kitchen of a barbecue store covered in oil stains; cutting boards were placed near dirty trash cans; staff washed dirty mops in the same kitchen sink used for washing plates and food, CCTV reported in September 2016.

If customers can see these scenes for themselves, no one would order from such stores, and the proprietors would quickly go out of business. But without external supervision, consumers are not likely to have that opportunity.

Thanks to the launch of live-streaming functions on food ordering platforms in Putuo, now customers can monitor the preparation and cooking process from their mobile phones. This definitely will make the local takeout industry cleaner, safer and more accountable.

I also am concerned that my takeout food might be opened up by food delivery boys while en route. I once ordered a noodle soup that was only half-filled. The packaging was wet and sticky, so I suspect that the delivery guy might have opened or spilled it, though I had no proof.

Worse still, a food delivery man in Meituan was recorded by an elevator surveillance camera opening and eating a customer's takeout food, then spitting the food back into the box, sohu.com reported in 2017.

All of these incidences point to an under-regulated and unaccountable industry that requires more transparency. Once the customer is allowed to see these mystery kitchens for themselves, and once we are satisfied that our food is clean, safe and not tampered with, then the best businesses will thrive and the worst of them will quickly disappear. In that way, Shanghai's online food ordering service sector will be boon for the local economy.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus