Shanghai authorities have come up with a new way to guarantee food safety: by employing fast food delivery staff.
The Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration (SHMFDA) has teamed up with big food delivery companies to crack down on restaurants operating without licenses or conducting illegal activities.
The SHMFDA announced Thursday that its reporting hotline 12311 will be working with Eleme, Meituan-Dianping and Baidu Waimai, and more than 30,000 delivery drivers from these companies will be keeping an eye on restaurants without licenses or fake licenses, and those without brick-and-mortar stores.
"A crackdown on unlicensed restaurants is high on our agenda this year," said Zhang Lei, an official with the SHMFDA. "If the food delivery companies find illegally operating restaurants and fail to report them, they will also be punished severely."
China's food delivery market registered fast growth last year as young Chinese are increasingly choosing to order food online, a report showed.
The online food delivery market hit 204.6 billion yuan (about 32.5 billion U.S. dollars) in 2017, 23 percent more than the previous year, according to a report by Meituan Waimai.
According to the SHMFDA, food delivery staff who ignore illegally operating restaurants will be put on a credit blacklist.
Pilot programs were already in practice before the official Thursday announcement.
A delivery driver from Meituan-Dianping found an unlicensed restaurant with poor hygiene standards and immediately reported it to authorities, said Lu Weijia, a food safety expert with Meituan-Dianping.
Five restaurants have been removed from the food delivery company's mobile app and closed by authorities thanks to delivery staff, Lu said.
Zhang Yi, with Eleme's public affairs department, said that the company has added a reporting button in their app for delivery staff. Those who report illegal restaurants are rewarded, Zhang said.