WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 25 issued the F.D.A. Strategy for the Safety of Imported Foods, a 17-page document that describes the agency’s multi-layered approach to ensuring certain imported foods are safe.
The strategy outlined by the F.D.A. has four goals: preventing safety problems in the foreign supply chain prior to a food’s entry into the United States; detecting and refusing entry of unsafe foods at U.S. borders; responding quickly when the F.D.A. learns of unsafe imported foods; and measuring the agency’s progress to ensure its imported food safety program remains effective and efficient.
To prevent safety problems prior to a food’s entry into the United States,the F.D.A. said it will take new steps to further ensure food offered for import meets the same standards as domestically produced food.
“One of our tools to achieve this goal is onsite inspections of foreign food facilities,” said Scott Gottlieb, M.D., F.D.A. commissioner, and Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner, in a joint statement introducing the strategy.
Such inspections have begun under the F.D.A.’s Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (F.S.V.P.) rule, which requires importers to verify their suppliers are meeting U.S. food safety standards.
The F.D.A.’s Accredited Third-Party Certification program is another line of defense. The program provides a framework for audits of foreign food plants to verify compliance with U.S. food safety standards that may be used by importers to establish eligibility in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (V.Q.I.P.), which offers importers expedited review and entry of their food based on the safety assurances that the audits provide.
The F.D.A. strategy also seeks to foster collaboration with regulatory agencies of certain countries whose food safety systems and oversight activities have been recognized as providing comparable levels of public health protection as those in the United States. The food safety systems of Canada, New Zealand and Australia have been assessed and recognized as comparable to the U.S. system under the F.D.A.’s systems recognition program, and talks are underway with the European Union on a mutual assessment of food safety systems.
“By leveraging partnerships between the United States and other countries with very strong food safety systems through our systems recognition program, we’re able to prioritize our inspection and border screening activities on foods imported from higher-risk areas,” Dr. Gottlieb said.
The F.D.A. is responsible for examining foods offered at the border for import into the United States. To this end, the F.D.A. utilizes Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT), an automated import screening tool that helps identify high-risk shipments of food. As part of its new strategy, the F.D.A. said it will optimize the tool by incorporating new sources of data from foreign supplier verification programs, voluntary importer incentive programs, accredited third-party auditors, foreign regulatory authorities and domestic supply chain activities.
The F.D.A.’s third goal is enhancing its ability to respond to unsafe imported food. The agency said it will use data from multiple sources to optimize use of physical examination and to develop strategic and directed surveillance sampling.
The F.D.A. will also capitalize on opportunities for improving the efficiency of its response to food safety incidents, for example by using mandatory recall authority, import alerts and improved information sharing with its regulatory partners as appropriate.
To ensure the F.D.A. import program remains effective and adopts modern tools to advance its purposes, the agency said it will develop an improved global inventory of food facilities and farms to help it optimize resource allocation for imported food safety oversight to areas of higher risk and strategically employ the full range of its regulatory tools as effectively as possible.
The F.D.A. said it also is in the process of developing performance measures and outcome indicators for imported food safety and intends to publish its measures and non-confidential data about imported food, foreign suppliers, F.S.V.P. importers and other importers to the public as it becomes available.