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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ombudsman probes regulation over sale of food and non-prepackaged beverages through vending machines

Ombudsman probes regulation over sale of food and non-prepackaged beverages through vending machines

The Office of the Ombudsman announced on Tuesday to launch of an investigation reviewing the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's regulation on the vending machines selling food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages.
The Ombudsman, Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, stated that there were 417 vending machines with valid permits across Hong Kong last year, a major increase from 102 in 2018.

She added that FEHD, as the gatekeeper of food safety and public hygiene, should ensure that its regulatory measures effectively control potential risks to food safety and protect public health amid the growth of the food vending machine business.

Between 2018 and late April 2022, the FEHD received 97 complaints related to food vending machines.

Without proper temperature control and cleaning of the vending machines' processing or dispensing systems, micro-organisms' growth and build-up may occur and lead to potential microbiological risks in food items.

Meanwhile, multiple media reports about vending machines with inadequate hot holding temperatures as required by the permits, or even the operation of food vending machines without permits, have threatened food safety.

"Against this background, I have decided to initiate a direct investigation into FEHD's regulation over the sale of food in hot/cold holding and non-prepackaged beverages by means of vending machine, including the relevant licensing and monitoring system, enforcement against unauthorised operation of vending machines and so forth, with a view to making improvement recommendations where necessary," Chiu said.

Currently, vending machines with permits issued by the FEHD mainly offer non-prepackaged beverages, including coffee, tea, freshly squeezed orange juice, etc., and ready-to-eat items requiring temperature control or simple processing on site.

Before approving an application for a permit to sell food through vending machines, the FEHD will examine the vending machine's location, the operation of selling food and cleaning the equipment, the source of food products, and the storage conditions.
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