The Food and Drug Administration has announced a new strategy describing how it is integrating new and existing import oversight tools as part of a comprehensive approach to food safety.

According to the FDA, the U.S. imports about 15 percent of its overall food supply. More than 200 countries or territories and roughly 125,000 food facilities and farms supply about 32 percent of the fresh vegetables, 55 percent of the fresh fruit, and 94 percent of the seafood consumed annually in the U.S. In 2019, between 14 and 15 million shipments of imported food are expected to enter the U.S.

This increasingly globalized and complex marketplace has placed new challenges on the U.S. food safety system, the FDA states. In response, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act enacted in 2011 gave the FDA expanded authority to mandate additional preventive controls as well as new and supplementary oversight and enforcement authorities. FSMA also specifies distinct roles for importers, manufacturers, third-party auditors, foreign regulatory bodies, and others.

The FDA’s new strategy aims to help determine the best way to use these tools across the different segments of the international food supply chain in ways that decrease public health risks while maintaining a level playing field for domestic and foreign producers. Its goals are to prevent food safety problems in the foreign supply chain prior to entry into the U.S., effectively detect and refuse entry of unsafe foods at the border, and rapidly respond to unsafe imported foods. More broadly, the strategy seeks to create an effective and efficient food import program.

Specific objectives associated with these goals include the following.

- optimize use of foreign facility inspections (e.g., use FDA foreign offices to perform and facilitate more inspections)

- ensure importers use of verified foreign suppliers through effective implementation of Foreign Supplier Verification Program rule (e.g., strategic enforcement of verification programs and supply chain controls requirements)

- utilize reliable audits, such as those issued under the accredited third-party certification program

- incentivize importers to use verified suppliers of safe food through Voluntary Qualified Importer Program

- continue to enhance and refine FDA’s import screening and entry review processes (e.g., use screening to prevent entry of food shipments by importers lacking adequate foreign supplier verification programs)

- optimize use of physical examination and sampling of imported food (e.g., focus on highest-risk products)

- strategically utilize import alerts and import certifications (e.g., detain and refuse admission of food from a foreign facility that refuses FDA inspection)

- improve testing methodologies and tools use to determine admissibility of food offered for import

- use information-sharing opportunities to prepare for and respond to the entry of unsafe imported food

- ensure effectiveness of import activities through performance assessment and continuous improvement (e.g., publish meaningful data related to imported food, foreign food suppliers, and FSVP importers)

For more information on the FDA’s imported food safety efforts, please contact Shelly Garg at (305) 894-1043. Click here to register for her upcoming webinar on import permits for alcohol beverages.

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