FDA updates its imported food safety strategy: What importers need to know

As more links are added to the global food supply chain, not only do food industries become more intertwined, but so too do regulatory landscapes. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) may be a U.S.-based law, but it has enormous implications for suppliers overseas who might wish to do business with a U.S. company, introducing them to additional inspections and compliance standards.

In February, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its updated imported food safety strategy. Here’s what exporters to the U.S. need to know.

Four goals. The FDA outlines four goals that inform its strategy: to prevent food safety problems in the supply chain outside of the U.S., to detect and refuse unsafe food at U.S. borders, to respond quickly when unsafe food is imported, and for the FDA to measure its own progress regarding imported food safety.

Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule. Under this rule, U.S. importers must verify that their suppliers meet U.S. food safety standards as outlined by FSMA. Some key requirements: hazard analyses, risk evaluations and safety verification activities, all of which can involve third-party audits.

Accredited Third-Party Certification program. This program, recently launched by the FDA, provides the framework for audits of foreign food facilities wishing to export to the U.S. The framework helps facilities comply with the necessary U.S. food safety standards.

Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP). Facilities can be eligible for the VQIP through an Accredited Third-Party Certification or by related means. The VQIP allows certified facilities expedited review and entry of their food products.

Systems recognition program. The FDA aims to essentially partner with other countries’ food safety agencies to increase efficiency in the inspection process. Countries recognized by the systems recognition program have food safety systems that are comparable to the standards established by the U.S. in protecting public health. “By leveraging partnerships between the U.S. and other countries with very strong food safety systems through our systems recognition program, we’re able to prioritize our inspection and border screening activities on foods imported from higher-risk areas,” the FDA said. Canada, New Zealand and Australia are currently recognized, and a mutual assessment with the European Union is in the works.

Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT). The FDA uses an automated import screening tool to identify high-risk food shipments. New data continuously enriches the system, and the FDA aims to improve its data intake using FSVPs and VQIPs. Better data will change what the FDA sees as a high-risk import for examination and other oversight activities, and to more efficiently use mandatory recall authority, import alerts and information-sharing.

“Overall, our modern strategy is designed to leverage our different authorities and tools to provide a multi-layered, data-driven, smarter approach to imported food safety,” the FDA said. “We’re fully committed to keeping our food safety mission robust and highly effective in this increasingly complex and global food landscape.”

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