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American Shipper

FDA implements new import food safety rules

Under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, importers must verify foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner consistent with U.S. safety standards and they are achieving the same level of food safety as domestic farms and food factories.

   The Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued new rules establishing enforceable safety standards for produce farms to prevent foodborne illness and make importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards. The agency also issued a rule establishing a program for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies to conduct food safety audits of foreign food facilities, with the goal of preventing problems before they occur.
   The actions were taken under directive from the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
   An estimated 48 million people, or one in six Americans, get sick each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year. Several high-profile outbreaks related to foods from spinach to peanut products prompted the law and tighter regulatory standards.
   More recently, a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella in imported cucumbers killed four Americans and hospitalized 157 more.
   The produce-safety rules cover growing, harvesting, packing and holding fruits and vegetables to minimize the chance of contamination.
   Under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, food importers must verify that foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner consistent with U.S. safety standards and that they are achieving the same level of food safety as domestic farms and food facilities. In 2013, the Department of Agriculture estimated that imported food accounted for about 19 percent of the U.S. food supply, including about 52 percent of the fresh fruits and 22 percent of the fresh vegetables consumed by Americans.
   Verification measures include conducting audits of a supplier’s facility, sampling and testing of food, or a review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records based on risks linked to the imported food and the performance of the foreign supplier.
   The FDA also finalized a rule on accredited third-party certification. The FDA can require in certain circumstances that a food offered for import be accompanied by a certification from an accredited third-party certification body.
   “The ultimate success of FSMA depends on full funding of the President’s fiscal year 2016 budget request,” Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a statement. “This will help us train FDA and state food safety staff on the new system, fund our state partners to work with farmers on produce safety, provide technical assistance to small farms and food businesses, and successfully implement the new import system that U.S. consumers deserve and Congress envisioned.”
   The FDA has finalized five of the seven major rules that implement the core of FSMA.

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