In 2007, the China Certification and Accreditation Administration (“CNCA”) established a certification program to assure the quality of domestic food, food-related producers, and food-related service providers, as well as their capability of controlling food safety hazards and other factors influencing food safety. This program introduced a set of rules and criteria to guide and assess the food safety management by the stakeholders in the food chain (e.g., food production, processing, transportation, storage, sales) (“Rules”).[1] Certification not only assures the public of a food-related entity’s capability of providing safe foods, products, and services that meet applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, it also reduces operational costs and increases an institution’s likelihood of accessing the international market. The CNCA promulgated the latest revision of the Rules, the Rules (2021 version), on January 8, 2021.

Pursuant to the Rules (2021 version), in order to obtain certification, the applicant must have established, implemented, and effectively operated a food safety management system in accordance with applicable rules for at least three months. A food safety management system requires, among other components, systems to manage food safety accidents, complaint handling, and food recalls. Documentation evidencing the same (e.g., product description, flow charts, process description) must also be submitted for certification.

The Rules (2021 version) also require that the applicant not be blacklisted as an enterprise that has seriously breached the law. This requirement reflects the Chinese government’s effort to establish a comprehensive and transparent social credit system (i.e., a central system by which the Chinese government collects and rates companies according to their respective operational performance in various areas) through various government authorities in recent years. Any non-compliance or irregularities by an applicant will be shared among multiple government agencies (including CNCA).

The Rules (2021 version) also require certification institutions to comply with relevant standards (e.g., GB/T 22000 / ISO 22000 Food safety management systems: Requirements for any organizations in the food chain), and direct certification institutions to consider food safety laws as well as other international, national, and industry standards when setting certification requirements for specific products or service sectors of the food chain. Notably, the Rules (2021 version) extend the certification requirement across all enterprises involved in the food chain, “from farm to table,” including agricultural manufacturing, retail, transportation, storage, service, and equipment manufacturing.

CNCA affords a grace period of approximately six months for certification institutions. Thus, before July 1, 2021, either the Rules (2010 version) (to be revoked on July 1, 2021) or the Rules (2021 version) may be used as reference for certification.

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Contributors: John Balzano, Julia Post, Muyun Hu, Annie Wang, and Audrey Zhi

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[1] These are the Implementing Rules for Certification of Food Safety Management Systems. The Rules provide the standards and requirements for certification procedures and management of certification institutions engaged in food safety management system certifications.

Photo of Audrey Zhi Audrey Zhi

Audrey Zhi advises companies on regulatory, compliance, and investigation matters (particularly China-related anti-corruption matters). Audrey also has experience in advising multinational companies on corporate matters and transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investments, outbound investments, and employment. Her work focuses on the…

Audrey Zhi advises companies on regulatory, compliance, and investigation matters (particularly China-related anti-corruption matters). Audrey also has experience in advising multinational companies on corporate matters and transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investments, outbound investments, and employment. Her work focuses on the life science industry, including pharmaceuticals, medical device, cosmetics, and food.