FDA’s proposed rules to improve safety of imported foods

by Chris Morran, The Consumerist

Perhaps your kitchen is only stocked with locally sourced organic food, but around 15% of what Americans eat — including half the fresh fruit, one-fifth of fresh veggies and 80% of fish — comes from around 150 different countries. So, finally getting around to implementing changes mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a couple rules aimed at beefing up controls on imported edibles.

The first major rule change proposed by the FDA gives U.S. food importers guidelines for verifying that their suppliers’ food meets U.S. food safety requirements. Importers would be required to identify the specific hazards associated with each type of food they bring in and take proactive measures to minimize these risks.

The proposed rules also hold importers accountable for verifying that their foreign suppliers are “implementing modern, prevention-oriented food safety practices,” and that they follow the same food safety standards as domestic producers. Importers must also work with accredited third-party auditors to verify that food is being produced safely.

“We must work toward global solutions to food safety so that whether you serve your family food grown locally or imported you can be confident that it is safe,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “Today’s announcement of these two new proposed rules will help to meet the challenges of our complex global food supply system. Our success will depend in large part on partnerships across nations, industries, and business sectors.”

While these rule changes are generally seen as a positive move — attempting to preempt foodborne illnesses rather than merely track breakouts after they occur — the FDA and the Obama administration have been sitting on these required proposals for quite some time.

The Center for Food Safety sued the FDA to end the delayed implementation of the FSMA rule changes, and the agency is now under a court-ordered schedule to put these proposed rules into place.