FDA releases 18-page food safety initiative to improve imported food safety.

Read more to learn how this may impact your business.

According to a recent press release by the US FDA, the U.S. imports about 15 percent of its overall food supply from more than 200 countries or territories, with 13.8 million food shipments in 2018. Mexico, Canada, Asia, and Europe account for the greatest number of imports, respectively. In 2019, between 14 and 15 million shipments of imported food are expected to enter the United States. Countries outside of the U.S. supply approximately 55 percent of fresh fruit, 32 percent of vegetables and 94 percent of seafood consumed in this country and will likely see the biggest impact of the FDA’s increased oversight.

For imported food, the volume and variety of imports and the complexity of global supply chains make food safety a challenging issue to address in the US. Further complicating the issue, some exporting countries may have food safety systems. The FDA has been provided with a range of tools and authorities to address the situation both domestically and in the foreign arena. The strategy document released today describes how FDA is integrating new import oversight tools with existing tools to help ensure that imported food is safe for consumers in the United States.

FSMA has granted FDA new and supplementary oversight and enforcement authorities to ensure industry is meeting these standards. While inspectional oversight remains the primary tool for domestic food producers and is an important tool for foreign producers, Congress determined that more was needed to control the food safety risks associated with imported foods. Through FSMA the FDA was provided with new tools and authorities to meet this need and the agency was charged with creating an oversight system designed primarily to prevent food safety problems from occurring, preferably before the food arrives at our border or reaches the plates of U.S. consumers.

The FDA’s recently published strategy document describes how FDA is integrating the new import oversight tools with existing tools as part of a comprehensive approach to imported food safety and is driven by the following four goals supported by the related objectives:

  1. Food Offered for Import Meets U.S. Food Safety Requirements
    • 1.1: Optimize use of foreign inspections
    • 1.2: Ensure importer use of verified foreign suppliers through effective implementation of the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs final rule
    • 1.3: Take into account the public health assurances of reliable audits such as those issued under FDA’s Accredited Third-Party Certification Program or pursuant to other assurance programs aligned with FDA food safety requirements
    •  1.4: Incentivize importers to use verified suppliers of safe food through the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program
    • 1.5: Leverage the oversight efforts of regulatory counterparts with strong food safety systems
    • 1.6: Increase awareness of and training on food safety requirements and strengthen the capacity of foreign suppliers to produce safe food GOAL 2: FDA Border Surveillance Prevents Entry of Unsafe
  2. FDA Border Surveillance Prevents Entry of Unsafe Foods
    • 2.1: Continue to enhance and refine FDA’s import screening and entry review processes
    • 2.2: Optimize use of physical examination and sampling of imported food Objective 2.3: Strategically utilize import alerts and import certifications
    • 2.4: Improve testing methodologies and tools used to determine admissibility of food offered for import
    • 2.5: Maximize the benefit to border surveillance from state and other partnerships
  3. Rapid and Effective Response to Unsafe Imported Food
    • 3.1: Maximize effectiveness of FDA response to an event involving an imported food
    • 3.2: Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of imported food safety recalls
    • 3.3: Use information-sharing opportunities to prepare for and respond to the entry of unsafe imported food
  4. Effective and Efficient Food Import Program
    • 4.1: Optimize resource allocation by developing a comprehensive global inventory of food facilities and farms and assessing the cumulative oversight applied to the global inventory
    • 4.2: Ensure effectiveness of import activities through performance assessment and continuous improvement

Each objective is supported by underlying strategies linked to specific public health outcomes. One thing is certain with the release of this new strategic initiative—imported food will see increased scrutiny, inspection, and oversight at all stages of the supply chain from source to the US border, to the importer.

Here is a link to the PDF with all the details.