At press time, the FDA finally released two new proposed rules under FSMA: the Proposed Rule on Food Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals and the Proposed Rule on Accreditation of Third-Party Auditors/Certification Bodies to Conduct Food Safety Audits and to Issue Certifications.
While industry trade associations are applauding the safety rules on imported food (indicating the rules are long overdue), the release of these rules have shed some light for consumers who are now realizing how much the food they consume is in fact imported. According to the FDA, imported food comes into the U.S. from about 150 different countries and accounts for about 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, including about 50 percent of the fresh fruits and 20 percent of the fresh vegetables Americans consume. In addition, the FDA typically only manages to inspect 1 to 2 percent of all imports.
The new rules couldn’t have come at a better time to help ease consumers’ worries of the food supply. This year alone, there have been several import-related food scares. There was the Salmonella outbreak in 18 states from cucumbers that originated in Mexico. Then there were Salmonella strains that occurred in nine states from Tahini sesame paste from Turkey. And more recently, the Hepatitis A outbreak that occurred in nine states due to Turkish pomegranates in a frozen berry mix.
FDA’s new rules would help eliminate contaminated products like these from finding their way into American households. According to the FDA, under the proposed rules, importers would be accountable for verifying that their foreign suppliers are using prevention-oriented food safety practices and that their food is meeting U.S. requirements. This means importers are required to have a plan for imported food, including identifying likely hazards and providing proof that these hazards are indeed being controlled.
However, there are already some questions surrounding these rules, such as the discrepancy regarding on-site inspections, which will have to be addressed in the coming months when the rules are available for public comment. In a time where consumers have the power to destroy a business due to a recall, importers should be making every effort to ensure the new rules truly make sense. In fact, industry professionals are urged to voice their opinions on all the proposed rules and not rely on Washington’s lack of understanding of the food supply to decide their future.