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Prepackaged food not equivalent to food with a package

english.bjinternetcourt.gov.cn | Updated: 2022-01-27

     

Lin bought some sea cucumber from an online store. Claiming that the packaging of the product failed to meet national safety standards, and assuming the food was prepackaged food, Lin filed a complaint about the store with the local market supervision bureau at district level, which upon examination concluded that the sea cucumber sold by the store was bulk food, that no illegal facts could be established, and thus no administrative penalty should be imposed on the store. Lin refused to accept the result and sued the district market supervision bureau in the Beijing Internet Court (BIC). 

Case summary:

Plaintiff Lin: In September 2019, Lin filed a complaint to the district market supervision bureau, claiming that the prepackaged instant sea cucumber bought from the online flagship store did not provide information such as production license, product standard number, and nutritional composition, which failed to meet the national food safety standards. Lin therefore requested the bureau to investigate  the case in accordance with the law. The bureau concluded after investigation that the alleged illegal facts were not established.

Lin disagreed with the conclusion, claiming that the food involved should be considered prepackaged food instead of bulk food. Moreover, Lin believed the district market supervision bureau violated the law and failed in its duties when handling the case. Lin requested the court to revoke the conclusion of the market supervision bureau, resume the act of administration and issue a written notice. 

Defendant: The district market supervision bureau had the statutory authority over the complaint filed by Lin. The handling procedures complied with the legal provisions, the facts were clearly determined, and the law was applied correctly. The bureau thus requested the court to reject Lin's claim. 

The BIC concluded that:

According to the Food Safety Law of the People's Republic of China and the interim provisions on administrative punishment procedures for market supervision and administration, the district market supervision bureau had the legal responsibility to investigate alleged illegal acts in violation of the Food Safety Law and make administrative punishment decisions. 

The final presentation of the food should not be the only standard to determine whether the food is prepackaged or not. Rather it should be determined comprehensively by a number of factors such as whether the food manufacturer is certified for food production, whether immediate processing is required, and sales and shelf life.  Prepackaged food cannot be equated with food with a package. Its core significance lies in the initial state and the production and processing conditions of the food, instead of the final state of the food.

In China, prepackaged food refers to the packaged food made by those manufacturers certified for food production and processing. Four types of food are excluded from prepackaged food, namely, food made and sold onsite, bulk food, edible agricultural products and food sold by small workshops and food vendors. In this case, the online flagship store purchased the sea cucumber from a third-party company in bulk and repackaged and sold it based on the quantity required by customers. Thus it could be concluded that the sea cucumber involved in this case was bulk food instead of prepackaged food. The failure to provide information on production license, product standard number, and nutritional composition on the sea cucumber package involved did not violate the provisions stipulated in the Food Safety Law, which say that only the food name, production date or batch number, and shelf life, as well as the name, address and contact of the manufacturer is required on the package of bulk food.

The district market supervision bureau had conducted onsite investigation and inquiries at the flagship store and closed the case with the conclusion that no illegal facts could be established, notifying Lin in writing about the conclusion. It fulfilled its legal responsibilities and the procedure was not improper. 

Details of the judgment:

The judgment of the first instance made by the BIC rejected all the claims of the plaintiff Lin. The judgment has come into force. 

Tips from the judge:

The market supervision departments at all levels have the legal responsibility to investigate alleged illegal acts in violation of the Food Safety Law and make administrative punishment decisions. Now that consumers are accustomed to buying food online, how to accurately define the connotation and boundary between prepackaged food and bulk food is of great importance for strengthening food safety supervision under the law. The judgment of this case explains in detail how to distinguish prepackaged food from bulk food for online food shopping, which will help those administrative organs to fulfill their duties.