FDA Levels Playing Field

FDA Levels Playing Field

July 29, 2013

FDA to Ensure Safe Imported Food

By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor

In order to implement the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed by President Obama, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration today issued two proposed rules aimed at helping to ensure that imported food meets the same safety standards as food produced in the United States.

These proposals are part of the FSMA approach to modernizing the food safety system for the 21st century, which is right in line with FSMA’s mission of preventing food safety problems, rather than reacting to them after the fact.

Imported food comes into the United States from about 150 different countries and accounts for roughly 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, including approximately 50 percent of the fresh fruits and 20 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed by Americans. 

Under the proposed rules, The FDA proposes to adopt regulations on foreign supplier verification programs (FSVPs) for U.S. food importers to follow. For the first time, importers would be accountable for verifying their foreign suppliers are implementing modern, preventive food safety practices, and achieving the same level of food safety as domestic growers and processors.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also amending its regulations to provide for accreditation of third-party auditors or certification bodies to conduct food safety audits of foreign food entities, including registered foreign food facilities, and to issue food and facility certifications, under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FDA expects that these regulations will strengthen the quality, objectivity, and transparency of foreign food safety audits on which many food companies and importers currently rely, and increase efficiency by reducing the number of redundant food safety audits.

Additional benefits include the increased flow of credible information to FDA regarding the foreign company compliance with food safety regulations that are ultimately offered for import into the United States, This information would, in turn, inform FDA's inspection plans of foreign food facilities and possibly reveal problems with a particular firm or its products, and possibly raise questions about the rigor of the food safety regulatory system of the country of origin.

“We must work toward global solutions to food safety so that whether you serve your family food grown locally or imported you can be confident that it is safe,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. 

The FDA encourages Americans to review and comment on these important proposed rules. The proposed FSVP rule and the third-party accreditation rule are available for public comment by submitting either electronic or written comments until November 26, 2013. Together, the two proposed rules would help the FDA create an integrated, efficient import oversight food safety system. 

These new proposals work in concert with the proposed rules released in January 2013, for produce safety and preventive controls in facilities that produce human food. 

Those proposed rules are currently open for comment until September 16, 2013, but the FDA intends to grant a 60-day final extension of the comment period to allow the public more time to consider the interrelationships between the January proposals and the two proposals being announced today.