The U.S. imports foods from more than 200 countries and territories, creating complex challenges for ensuring food safety due to various regulatory oversight and supply chain issues. In 2019, FDA unveiled its Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food, which outlined the agency’s efforts on safeguarding imported food. In September 2022, the agency went deeper into its plan, issuing a report that specifically discusses its activities to ensure the safety of imported produce.
With this new report, entitled Activities for the Safety of Imported Produce, FDA details its efforts for produce safety, which is of paramount importance considering that 55% of all fruit and 32% of all vegetables U.S. consumers eat are imported from foreign countries. This step is also a vital component of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, FDA’s plan of action based on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA granted FDA new and supplementary oversight and enforcement authorities to ensure imported produce is meeting U.S. standards.
This strategy document describes how FDA is integrating the new import oversight tools in FSMA with existing tools as part of a comprehensive approach to imported food safety. There are four goals outlined in the report on imported produce:
- The first involves the goal of ensuring that food offered for import meets U.S. food safety requirements, which FDA noted is one of the most effective ways of keeping imported produce safe. This component explains the compliance verification activities FDA performs using product inspections and testing, as well as information sharing with foreign regulatory partners. Outreach activities to raise awareness of the strict food safety requirements in the U.S. are also included in this section.
- The second goal involves FDA border surveillance to prevent entry of unsafe foods into the U.S. Considering that FDA is responsible for surveillance activities at more than 300 active U.S. ports of entry, this is extremely significant. In this section, the report explains how the agency will use such information as an importer’s compliance history and risks associated with the commodity to inform actions such as import entry screening, product examinations, sampling, and testing, which can help prevent unsafe produce being imported to the U.S.
- The third goal involves FDA’s internal process and procedures for quickly responding to outbreaks and other contamination events involving unsafe imported food. This includes efforts to remove unsafe produce from the marketplace if it has already entered the country and what FDA would do to make sure future occurrences don’t happen.
- The final goal concerns developing an effective and efficient food import program that protects U.S. consumers. This involves FDA’s public health mission as it pertains to imported food and serves to underpin the agency’s overall approach to imported produce safety.