To assist very small importers and small foreign suppliers in complying with FSVP, modified requirements grant them exemption from most of the standard requirements, including conducting a hazard analysis of the imported food or ingredient. Without a hazard analysis, there is no working food safety plan. But as is currently occurring in the food industry, these exemptions do not stop a buyer or an auditor from demanding a working food safety plan whether or not it is required.
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Difficulties in Reviewing a Food Safety Plan
If the FSVP importer can obtain the foreign supplier’s safety plan, a thorough evaluation of each imported food item (or type of food) is required, unless the imported food is exempt or under modified requirements. If the importer is the U.S. processor or manufacturer, it is already devoting a substantial amount of time developing, monitoring, and maintaining all the elements of a working food safety plan. The FSVP further requires the importer to spend additional time analyzing its foreign supplier’s food safety plan. Some importers have neither the technical background for such analyses nor the time to allot for review. The requirement for the Qualified Individual to read or understand the documents in the language of the foreign supplier further handicaps the U.S. importer. Although the importer understands that its Qualified Individual may perform these FSVP verification activities, some importers are having difficulties searching the already tight employment market then employing another staff member with technical qualifications. Hiring a Qualified Individual as a consultant imposes financial burden to the importer and will most likely not encourage the degree of involvement that is desirable between the importer and its FSVP.
The importer understands there are alternative verification procedures, such as internet searches of publicly available documents describing the foreign supplier’s food safety records. Internet search can be accomplished without significant problems or costs. Sampling and testing of food samples is another FSVP task, but this activity is already costing the food processor tens of thousands of dollars prior to implementing a FSVP. In addition, sampling and testing is not a definitive tool for ensuring food safety and is a major reason for the development of the HACCP system. The preferred FSVP verification activity, an onsite audit, also poses a significant financial cost to the importer.
These are issues that will entail several solutions that cannot be completely discussed in this column.
Customs Brokers—The Forgotten Partners
Importers have a natural close working relationship with their customs brokers. Brokers field questions on the process and the product and try to resolve issues expediently. Customs brokers expect their clients (importers) to ask them about FSVP and consider it their responsibility to be familiar with the program, its requirements, and their possible role in alleviating some of the anxiety importers have with FSVP. Some have been asked to be the FSVP importer for the products brought into the U.S., a request that brokers reasonably decline. But if a customs broker is located in the U.S. and purchases the food and distributes in the U.S., the broker could become the FSVP importer and is expected to meet FSVP requirements, including a hazard analysis of the purchased food.
The current objective of the customs broker is to at least understand the FSVP issues raised to them and be able to refer importers to the appropriate persons who could assist them. Importers are their customers, and brokers would like to maintain them as satisfied customers.
An issue that brokers have raised is LTL, or less than truckload, of imported products. Although the very small importer may operate under modified FSVP requirements that should assist them with the timely compliance to the rule, importers also have to address sanitary transportation issues. LTLs are susceptible to cross-contact and cross-contamination due to the presence of other products in the shipping or road container and the various stops at different customers. LTLs are already occurring in importation and brokers manage them for their importers, but the additional food safety rules increase the cost of operations for both the importer and the broker. Brokers, however, stated they will fully cooperate with their importers in addressing FSVP issues.