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Sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for exporting food to South Korea

Food producers wishing to export to this Asian powerhouse must be acquainted with the entry requirements for their products into this country. The most important are those regarding production processes, chemical residues and contaminants, and traceability.

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Under existing international rules and regulations, each country has the authority to stipulate sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for the entry of food products into its territory. These trade barriers are accepted as legitimate since the intention is to ensure that food reaching store shelves and restaurants is innocuous, that is to say, that it does not constitute a hazard. 

Although sanitary and phytosanitary requirements throughout all countries are similar – since they must all be based on scientific evidence – it is important for producers to know the particular characteristics of each State to which they wish to deliver their products.  

In the case of South Korea, food safety regulations include three major requirements: first, producers must have a hazard analysis and critical control point system; second, they must assure that food does not exceed the maximum chemical residue and contaminant limits; and third, a voluntary traceability requirement.  

Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP)

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System (HACCP) is an operating method that enables companies to identify the safety risks of the food that is produced.   

In general, the HACCP system includes requirements related with facilities’ management, hygiene practices, manufacturing equipment handling, processing and packaging, water handling in production, storage and transportation, audits and other procedures. 

Trade barriers are accepted as legitimate since the aim is to ensure that food does not constitute a hazard    

In Korea, the HACCP system is regulated by the Food Sanitation Act, which it recommends for certain production plants and renders it mandatory for others. The HACCP system is mandatory for products such as processed fish products, frozen fish, seafood and byproducts, pizzas, frozen meatballs and noodles, frozen snacks, beverages not subject to any evaporation process and sterilized cabbage in sealed condition. 

Food manufacturing companies have several obligations. First, they must set up a team to implement/monitor HACCP compliance, where every member of the team has specific functions. Second, they must specify the characteristics of the food: name, type, form, ingredients and additives, final product standards, storage and distribution precautions, date of expiry and packaging material, among others. Then, they must identify their products’ consumers: define the type of consumer and the consumption methods (for example, if the food must be heated or not before consuming).  

They must also prepare a flow chart of the procedures for each production unit, work area distribution, ventilation and public services. They must also review all types of potential hazards (biological, chemical and physical for each additive and ingredient), determine the critical control points and their monitoring and control methods, develop audit and procedure methods and prepare the pertinent documentation and a record keeping method.

Maximum limits of chemical residues and contaminants

The Korean Food Code includes requirements regarding chemical residues added to food such as pesticides and veterinary drugs, whether pathogens, heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, etc.) radioactive material, toxins or mycotoxins.    

The Food Code determines the maximum amount of pesticides that can be used. If residue limits for certain pesticides are not established in the Food Code, those established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission or those set out for plant products that are classified in the same category by the Codex Alimentarius must be used. 

Tolerance limits for veterinary drugs also appear in the Codex Alimentarius. Drugs that have not been approved under Korean regulations should not be present in any type of food. If there are no specific regulations on veterinary drugs or residues for certain fodder  components, those relating to “meat” or “fish” will be applied. 

All residue limits must be complied with in products manufactured with raw material for which limits have been established. If there is a variation of the water content in the product after processing, the limits will be set in accordance with the final content. If at a national level or in the Codex Alimentarius there are no limits for certain veterinary drugs, those set out for similar animal species must be followed. 


The traceability system is regulated under Article 49 of the Food Sanitation Act and is voluntary for food industry businessmen. Those wishing to validate their traceability system must send out a request to the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) and comply with certain requirements set out by this entity. 

Once the register has been approved, the company may package its products with the official traceability system logo that will be valid for three years with the possibility of renewal.  

In addition to the form, businessmen must submit a traceability plan, which should include:  

  • Information on the general structure of the entire traceability system, including implementation tools: hardware and software, database, etc. 
  • Information of food to be traced including name, packaging size, production register and yearly distribution. 
  • Information on distribution, sale and place of storage.  
  • Product recovery and destruction plan to address any problems. Imported food within the traceability system must provide the following information available on Internet: traceability registration number, importing agency, country of origin, manufacturer’s name and address, date of production and expiry and ingredients.  
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