What is the FDA’s Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food?

In 2019, between 14 and 15 million shipments of imported food are expected to enter the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To stop unsafe food from being imported into the U.S., the agency presented a strategy to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) grants FDA new and supplementary oversight and enforcement authorities designed primarily to prevent food safety problems from occurring, preferably before the food arrives at our border or reaches the plates of U.S. consumers.

“We must invest to prevent problems from happening by solidifying the agency’s tools under FSMA. We must also embrace new innovations to improve our ability to secure the food supply chain and engage in more effective tracking and tracing of food from farm to fork,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “This includes continuing to improve our capabilities for both detecting and responding to food contamination when preventive measures alone are insufficient.”

The United States imports about 15 percent of its overall food supply. Other countries are supplying approximately 32 percent of the fresh vegetables, 55 percent of the fresh fruit, and 94 percent of the seafood that Americans consume annually, according to the FDA.

The FDA Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food presented the guiding principles to monitor and ensure the safety of imported food:

  • Protecting public health is the first priority:  All imported food safety activities are carried out with the end goal of protecting and promoting public health.
  • Partnering with others to build prevention‐based systems is the key to success:  FDA must partner with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that safety is built into food production and processing from farm to table, preventing foodborne illness and injury before they begin.  Regulatory partners here in the United States and abroad play an important role in FDA identifying and rejecting unsafe food offered for import into the country as well as marshalling effective responses when foodborne illness or injury does occur.
  • Maintaining scientific expertise and innovation as the foundations of FDA’s food safety work:  Science drives FDA’s imported food activities, from testing for compliance with food safety controls, to developing new testing methodologies for detecting pathogens or contaminants on foods offered for import, to establishing an expanded network of laboratories with the capability and capacity to ensure that imported foods meet U.S. safety requirements.

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  • Sustaining a level playing field for domestic and foreign food producers:  FDA must apply the full range of oversight tools to ensure that food imported from abroad is as safe as food produced domestically.  Although the tools may differ in the foreign and domestic arenas, they ultimately create a multilayered food safety net strengthened with areas of overlap and interconnection.
  • Allocating resources according to risk is the most effective method for protecting public health, and data analytics is the key to prioritizing according to risk: FDA maximizes the public health benefit of its regulatory oversight by putting more resources toward riskier areas and fewer resources toward lower-risk areas.  The agency understands where areas of greater risk are through effective collection and comprehensive consideration of intelligence from a range of sources regarding multiple risk factors. Supported by an improved facilities and farms inventory, FDA will strategically allocate resources across all foreign food facilities and farms and at the border.
  • Requiring measurement and ongoing refinement to ensure success:  Development of performance measures and outcome indicators for imported food safety will improve and maximize the success of imported food safety activities.
  • Establishing transparency as the standard:  FDA will publish non-confidential data related to inspections of foreign suppliers and importers, examination and sampling, or other imported food safety activities in support of our commitment to operate transparently.