In February, FDA released its “Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food” outlining the agency’s comprehensive approach to helping ensure the safety of food imported into the United States.
The U.S. imports about 15 percent of its overall food supply from more than 200 countries or territories, with 13.8 million food shipments in 2018. In 2019, between 14 and 15 million shipments of imported food are expected to enter the United States. Other countries supply approximately 55 percent of fresh fruit, 32 percent of vegetables and 94 percent of seafood consumed in this country.
While FDA states that the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world and significant food safety advances are being made, a preventable level of foodborne illness continues to occur – arising from both domestically produced and imported food. For imported food, the volume and variety of imports and the complexity of global supply chains make food safety a challenging issue to address. Further complicating the issue, some exporting countries may have food safety systems different from that of the U.S. and differing levels of regulatory capacity.
Under provisions of the U.S. law contained in the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, importers of food products intended for introduction into U.S. interstate commerce are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to U.S. requirements. (All imported food is considered to be interstate commerce.)
FDA is not authorized under the law to approve, certify, license, or otherwise sanction individual food importers, products, labels, or shipments. Importers can import foods into the U.S. without prior sanction by FDA, as long as the facilities that produce, store, or otherwise handle the products are registered with FDA, and prior notice of incoming shipments is provided to FDA.
Imported food products are subject to FDA inspection when offered for import at U.S. ports of entry. FDA may detain shipments of products offered for import if the shipments are found not to be in compliance with U.S. requirements. Both imported and domestically-produced foods must meet the same legal requirements in the U.S.
The new FDA strategy document describes how the agency is integrating new import oversight tools with existing tools to help ensure that imported food is safe for consumers in the United States.