(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the October/November 2017 issue.)
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Importers are held responsible for the quality and safety of food products that they supply in the U.S. They are required to ensure the foreign suppliers who manufacture, harvest, or process the food, including animal products and fish, adhere to the relevant sections of the Food Supplier Verification Program (FSVP).
The U.S. FDA also stringently monitors food imports that come from high-risk countries. This is because these countries are believed to have lax food safety laws and enforcement practices. When the importers are held responsible for the quality of products they bring into the U.S., it provides the FDA with power to enforce the national food safety requirements on imports. The same domestic laws that are applicable to local food producers and suppliers are applicable to foreign food suppliers as well.
Though ensuring food safety of products being shipped in from distant parts of the globe may seem daunting, it is possible to achieve desirable results by following proper procedures. Here are a few factors you should take into consideration.
1. Know the impact. It is necessary that importers know who is impacted by the FSVP. All importers who bring in food items for human or animal consumption fall under the ambit of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.
Importers have the flexibility to determine risks involved on the basis of the supplier history and the type of food being imported.
Importers typically mean the local company or supplier who brings the imported products to store shelves in the U.S. If there is no U.S. owner or consignee, then the importer is the representative or the U.S. agency that receives the import on behalf of the foreign supplier.
There is unique identifying information for every importer to make the whole process transparent and accountable.
2. Importers’ responsibilities. The importers are primarily responsible for determining the known or reasonably foreseeable risk associated with the food product being imported and with the overseas supplier.
If the past record of the supplier indicates safety issues, then the importer has to be doubly cautious about safety audits. The procedures, practices, and processes related to the manufacture, storage, and transportation of the food products must be evaluated. The supplier’s compliance with applicable FDA safety regulations has to assessed, and responsiveness to past hazard issues has to be studied. Appropriate supplier verification activities must be documented and carried out by the importer on the basis of hazard analysis and foreign supplier’s performance.
The importer can also rely on another entity other than the supplier to carry out the food safety verification procedures. The importer needs to verify and document all audit findings and ensure that they are compliant with the U.S. regulations.
3. Exempt foods. All imported foods are not subjected to the same regulations. If the importer’s customer, or any subsequent entity in the distribution chain, is processing the food to ensure food safety, then the importer is not bound to conduct food supplier verification activities. Fruit juices and seafood are exempt because they are subject to the FDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP, regulations. Certain meat and poultry products and food products that are further processed in the U.S. for future export are also exempt.
4. The meaning behind hazard analysis. Hazard analysis evaluates the potential chemical, biological, and physical hazards associated with the food products or their manufacturing processes. The hazards are identified on the basis of past experience, adverse events/illness data, scientific data, or other available evidence. The analysis also should suggest controls and checks that could prevent these hazards, and the outcome if the controls were not put in place.