Americans eat a lot of imported foods. For that reason, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates that foods imported from other countries be held to the same high standards required of domestic food.
The Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVPs) rule for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals is now final. As a consumer, what does this rule mean to you?
It’s all about minimizing the risk of Americans contracting a serious foodborne illness or encountering other safety problems from contaminated food. Imported food accounts for about 19 percent of the U.S. food supply, including about 52 percent of the fresh fruits and 22 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed by Americans (2013 statistics, according to the USDA, Economic Research Service).
The FSVP final rule makes importers accountable for verifying that foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner that meets U.S. safety standards. The rule requires that importers of food to the U.S. are using the most appropriate verification activities to significantly minimize or prevent risks and prevent adulterated foods from reaching America’s dinner tables, as well as foods that are misbranded with respect to allergen labeling. Importers are also required to verify that their suppliers are producing food in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection as required under the other new FSMA regulations on preventive controls and produce safety. The verification activities could include annual onsite audits of a supplier’s facility, sampling and testing of food, or a review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records.
Upon implementation, importers of food must now do the following before importing food products into the U.S.:
- Establish and follow written procedures to ensure that they import foods only from foreign suppliers approved based on an evaluation of the risk posed by the imported food (determined through a hazard analysis) and suppliers’ performance, including their compliance with FDA food safety regulations (or, when necessary and appropriate, on a temporary basis from unapproved foreign suppliers whose foods you subject to adequate verification activities before importing the food);
- Determine known or reasonably foreseeable hazards with each food, based on experience, illness data, scientific reports and other information;
- Determine and conduct supplier verification activities tailored to unique food risks and supplier characteristics to ensure suppliers are producing food consistent with U.S. requirements; and
- Conduct corrective actions promptly if they determine that a foreign supplier has used inappropriate processes and procedures or produces food that is adulterated or misbranded with respect to allergen labeling.
The FSVP final rule allows importers of food to the U.S. needed flexibility to meet requirements that better reflect today’s modern food supply and distribution system. Additionally, certain categories of imported food are not covered by the final rule. Certain juice, fish, and fishery products (because they are already subject to supplier verification requirements); food for research or evaluation; food for personal consumption; and alcoholic beverages and ingredients used in making alcoholic beverages, are among foods in these categories.
The bottom line is that as this rule is implemented, consumers can have confidence in the safety of the foods they eat, no matter where in the world those foods are produced.