If all goes as the FDA plans with its Food Safety Modernization Act, importers will soon be required to meet the same level of public health protection as food that is produced in the United States. The new law is meant to significantly enhance the FDA’s ability to oversee the millions of food products coming into the United States from other countries each year. This ruling is also intended to reduce annual costs associated with imported foods and food borne illness.
Despite delays in getting this major rule passed, the FDA is implementing some of the provisions within the first year of passage. It has developed a consumer-friendly web search for locating foods subject to recall. The Administration has the authority to recall any foods it suspects are hazardous or adulterated. It has established requirements for food facilities to register in even-numbered years, and requires importers to provide notice if foods have been refused entry into other countries. The FDA has the authority to administratively quarantine suspect foods and require access to records in the event of emergency. The FDA can also collect fees to recover the costs of re-inspections or mandatory recalls.
Exemptions to this import ruling include:
- Owners, operators, or agents in charge who are in compliance with FDA’s seafood, juice, or low-acid canned food products requirements
- Foods imported in small quantities for the purpose of research
- Food transshipped through the U.S. or imported for export
The legal definition of an importer is: (A) the United States owner or consignee of the article of food at the time of entry of such article into the United States; or (B) when there is no United States owner or consignee as described in sub paragraph (A), the United States agent or representative of a foreign owner or consignee of the article of food at the time of entry of such article into the United States.
If all goes as planned, additional regulations will include: 1) Compliancy; 2) Hazard Analysis Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) standards and verification; 3) Periodic reassessments within 3 years of establishing Foreign Supplier Verification; 4) Certification of third parties to inspect and verify foods are safe and suppliers are compliant; 5) Traceability protocols, (obtained by getting a Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) Numbering System; and 6) Maintenance of detailed records.
The FDA will ramp up its inspection frequencies. For the next 5 years it must double the number of inspections every year compared with the year prior. In 2011, the FDA inspected 600 foreign facilities, which means it will have increased its inspections to 19,000 foreign facilities by 2016.