The pandemic-induced lockdowns since the beginning of the year have led to a large jump in the home cooking trend and demands for the relevant products such as sauces and fresh foods across Asia, including in China, India and Malaysia.
A similar situation took place in South Korea, but the country also saw a rise in demand for meal kits, which are kits containing pre-prepared, pre-portioned ingredients, condiments and other necessary essentials for consumers to cook their own meals without the hassle of ingredient preparation.
These had already been seeing growth prior to the pandemic and CJ Online data revealed a further 84% growth year-on-year in meal kit sales after the COVID-19 outbreak. This rise in demand is something that the government has taken notice of and thus decided to create a new food category to govern.
“In response to the increase in demand for simple cooking sets (or meal kits) due to the prolonged COVID-19 outbreak, we intend to revitalize the related industries and strengthen food safety management through the establishment of reasonable standards [for this category],” the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) said in a formal statement.
“All meal kits containing meat or seafood as ingredients [must] be preserved and distributed using proper cold chain such as refrigeration or freezing. Any eggs, poultry, meat or fishery products that are to be consumed without heating and cooking should be separately packaged so that they do not come into direct contact with other ingredients.
“Vegetables or fruits provided for consumption without heating, washing or peeling should be sterilized and washed [and] soups should undergo a heating process before consumption.”
The new regulations also included bacterial contamination standards and specified testing methods to be used to ensure safety and quality control, which can be found here [Document in Korean]. These are expected to come into effect on January 1st 2022.
In addition, MFDS has also established standards to limit the amount of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) allowed in hemp foods such as hemp seeds and hemp seed oil.
“The amount of THC allowed in hemp seeds is 5mg/kg or less, and CBD is 10mg/kg or less, whereas hemp seed oil may contain THC amounts of 10mg/kg or less and CBD amounts of 20mg/kg or less,” said MFDS.
These regulations entered into force upon the MFDS announcement earlier this year.
According to the Korean Food and Drug Agency (KFDA), only deshelled hemp seeds are legal for use as food in South Korea and there is no risk or concern of euphoric effects or intoxication.
“Hemp seeds whose outer shells have been removed are listed as edible food ingredients – in particular, South Korea [has] set strict standards of CBD is set in hemp seed oil,” KFDA said via an email statement.
“While this type of oil can be extracted from all plants in the cannabis genus, industrial hemp in the only plant used for hemp seed oil – because this type of hemp is specifically produced industrially and the amount of psychoactive substances that are contained in it is minimal.
“Hemp seed oil is known to be great for cooking and full of nutrients. It can provide a crispy and nutty taste to foods and can be a wonderful replacement for olive oil in salads.”