FDA proposes more oversight of food importers

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The Food and Drug Administration is accepting comments on a plan to increase oversight of food importers.

The agency will accept comments through Dec. 26 on the proposal to create verification programs for those who import food for humans or animals.

A July 26 Federal Register notice states that 15 percent of the U.S. food supply—particularly produce—is imported. In creating the verification programs, the agency is trying to prevent problems among foreign suppliers, rather than react once problems are discovered.

“These new import authorities will help FDA transition from its historical focus on catching food safety problems at the border to one that builds safety in throughout the supply chain, from foreign producers to U.S. consumers,” the FDA announced.

Importers would have to verify that food they bring into the U.S. is produced in ways that provide the same safety as required for domestic producers, according to the FDA. The Federal Register notice indicates that this would involve reviewing relevant FDA warning letters, import alerts, or certification requirements; analyzing hazards for each food; verifying suppliers are adequately controlling risks; maintaining lists of foreign suppliers; taking corrective action when needed; obtaining identification numbers; and keeping adequate records.

The verification program requirements would not apply to importation of juice and seafood from facilities complying with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points regulations, foods intended for research or evaluation, foods for personal consumption, alcoholic beverages, or foods intended for further processing and export.

The regulations also would have modified requirements for importation of dietary supplements, low-acid canned foods, foods from suppliers with less than $500,000 in annual food sales, or foods from countries recognized as having food safety systems equivalent to those in the U.S.

In a separate but related notice, the FDA proposed creating a program to accredit third-party auditors who could certify the safety of foreign facilities and the foods they produce for human or animal consumption. The FDA is accepting comments on that rule through Nov. 26.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January 2011, directs the FDA to increase inspections of foreign food facilities but gives the FDA authority to develop regulations requiring shared accountability and responsibility by industry. The law also directs the FDA to establish a program for accrediting third-party auditors of foreign food facilities.

Information on the proposals is available here