Food safetyImported food: Shifting from catching problems at the border to preventing them at the source

Published 14 August 2013

The Association of Food and Drug officials (AFDO) has published its guidance document for improving imported food safety. The document, entitled “Issues and Concerns with Imported Foods,” was released ahead of the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) release of two rules on the same issue. The FDA aims to shift from a regulatory system that focuses on catching problems at the border and into a prevention system to correct issues before they reach the American border.

The Association of Food and Drug officials (AFDO) has published its guidance document for improving imported food safety. The document, entitled “Issues and Concerns with Imported Foods,” was released ahead of the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) release of two rules on the same issue.

The AFDO is a York, Pennsylvania-based non-profit organization working toward streamlining and simplifying regulations by drafting regulatory rules or by commenting on government proposals.

In 2011, U.S food imports exceeded ten million imported lines, with plans to grow rapidly. According to AFDO, less than 1 percent are physically examined, yet all are electronically reviewed using a “risk-based targeted approached.” The FDA states that the agency is only able physically to inspect about 2 percent of all the food coming into the country. The agency estimates the verification programs alone will cost the food industry between $400 and $500 million annually.

Noted in AFDO’s guidance document is that “Once these FDA-regulated products enter the United States and are marketed domestically, they become the primary responsibility of state and local agencies to ensure the product’s safety.” In addition, “Surveillance of imported foods by federal, state, and local food-protection agencies has resulted in many regulatory actions including food sampling and testing, food seizure and embargo, destruction of violative products, Class I, II, and III food recalls, and FDA import Alerts,” the guidance adds.

AFDO considers the U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the first line of defense for imported food safety because CBP obtains entry documents from importers before review by FDA. The guidance document focuses on the EPA, FDA, USDA, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service as key agencies for border enforcement actions.

On 26 July, the FDA issued two rules incorporating the imported foods language in the two-year old Food Safety Modernization Act. During the comment period, the proposed rules require importers to verify that suppliers employ prevention-based practices, and create a system for certifying third-party auditors. With the proposed two rules, the FDA, on the subject of imported food safety, aims to shift from a regulatory system that focuses on catching problems at the border and into a prevention system to correct issues before they reach the American border. The two new proposed regulations — Foreign Supplier Verification Programs and the Accreditation of Third-Party Auditors — would be a “huge sea change” for food safety, according to Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at FDA.

 

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