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Food Importers and Manufacturers – New Regulations and Compliance Standards You Should Know About 4/8/2011

food importer regulationsIn January, the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law and the FDA is currently working its way through the implementation process. Perhaps the most groundbreaking part of this law is the requirement for food producers and manufacturers and processors to verify and certify their suppliers’ food safety processes.

Why start worrying about imported food and ingredients now? Over the last decade, more and more food has become available on America’s shelves and a good amount of it is imported; 15% of food to be exact. Certain foods have much higher percentages; such as 75% of seafood, 20% of vegetables and 50% of all fruits are imported. The FDA however, hasn’t had the bandwidth or the manpower to inspect more than 1 percent of all the imported food in most recent years.

What does this mean for food manufacturers and producers with international supply chains, from say, China? The new law places the responsibility on the business owners to verify and certify that their international suppliers are complying with the standards set by the FDA in the U.S. The goal of the FSMA is to ensure that imported food is just as safe as the food that is produced domestically and will require a great deal of cooperation and partnership from many different countries and agencies.

What is compliance and how do businesses become certified? At this point, the FDA is still creating the guidelines for how to become certified. However, food safety experts have suggested implementing a preventative, risk-based plan like HACCP. Although the FSMA rules will require actions beyond having a solid HACCP plan, it is said to be a great starting point for companies working towards future compliance.

Industry experts also suggest that as companies prepare for compliance, they should undergo a “gap analysis” to locate weaknesses and shortcomings in their food safety plans. With the results from the gap analysis, companies will then be able to address the issues before an FDA inspection, which when paired with a HACCP plan can help expedite the process for compliance.

The FDA must accomplish the following tasks by the indicated dates: (taken from the FDA’s website)

– Preventive Controls for Facilities – June 2012

– Produce Safety Standards – January 2013

Inspection, Compliance & Response

– Rules and Process for Administrative Detention – May 2011

– Recall Authority (May be mandated only by the Commissioner of the FDA or the Secretary for Health and Human Services) – Currently Active

– Suspension of Registration Regulations – May 2011

Imports

– Foreign Supplier Verification Program Guidance – January 2012

– Accredited Third-Party Certification Program – January 2013

– Mandatory Certification for High Risk Foods – Currently Active (but the definition of “high risk foods” is still in development)

The latest update in FSMA:

As the first big accomplishment of the Food Safety Modernization Act,  the FDA has released a user-friendly food recall database. The database is an easier way to allow consumers to access up-to-date information regarding current and past food safety scares. The database provides information sorted by type, such as food, drugs, animal health etc., but can also be searched by date, food type, or brand. If available, the product labels will be posted as well. This new database is one step in the long process of the food safety act’s implementation that will help create better communication between the governmental agencies and consumers.

You can also sign up for daily or weekly updates that deliver the most recent recalls directly to your inbox.

The database can be viewed and searched here: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm

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