Ingredients for Better Imports

By Matthew Harwood

The FDA has until January 2013 to establish the system that will recognize accreditation bodies, which in turn will accredit foreign governments and other third-party auditors to certify that foreign facilities meet U.S. food safety standards.

Importers. FSMA’s “most groundbreaking shift” is not the expansion of foreign FDA offices or the accreditation regime, according to the FDA. It is holding U.S. importers accountable for the food they vouch for at the border.

Adopting an approach similar to that used for other imports under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism Act, FSMA requires the FDA to create the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) and the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), a voluntary, fee-based program to give trusted food importers preferential treatment at U.S. borders after their suppliers are certified as FSMA compliant.

By January 2012, the FDA must publish regulations that determine how U.S. importers will “verify that food imported into the United States is as safe as food produced and sold within the United States.” Importers will then have until January 2013 to verify that suppliers do their due diligence and perform hazard analyses; put in place preventive controls to mitigate any potential hazards identified at their facility; continually reevaluate those controls; and keep a written food-safety plan, specifying what potential hazards exist and how they have been mitigated.

Importers will have to keep all related FSVP records for at least two years and present them promptly to FDA officials upon request. This will give FDA inspectors the ability to verify that importers are in compliance with FSVP, explains Veneziano.

The big question for importers will be how FDA defines verification. Richard Ryan, assistant deputy director of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) corporate security, believes it could go two ways. “First, suppliers could promise to meet U.S. food safety standards, which would satisfy the ‘verification’ requirement and be cheap,” he explains. “Two, the verification process could require on-site validation and performance audits, which would be very difficult and expensive.”

According to various food-safety stakeholders, the biggest food importers like Kraft Foods, Inc., McCormick & Company, and ADM already verify that their suppliers institute safety processes to prevent pathogens and adulterants from getting into the supply chain. “Many companies already do some sort of supplier verification,” says Bill Ramsey, director of corporate security at McCormick and chair of the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Food Defense Work Group. “In their supplier verification programs, most of them have some level of on-site inspection, some of that might be done in-house and some of it might be done by consultant groups.”



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