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Food safety: FDA unveils new plan to ensure safety of food imported to U.S.

Feb 25, 2019

The Food and Drug Administration says it's getting better at predicting which foods from other countries are more vulnerable to problems.

This is part of the FDA's new efforts to ensure the safety of imported food announced Monday, including the use of predictive risk modeling to identify whether these imported foods need to be tested or stopped at the border.

Certain foods Americans eat are more likely than others to come from beyond the borders. For example, about 32 percent of fresh vegetables, 55 percent of fresh fruit and 94 percent of seafood are imported.

"Our modern strategy is designed to leverage our different authorities and tools to provide a multi-layered, data-driven, smarter approach to imported food safety," FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and deputy commissioner Frank Yiannas said in a written statement.

How the FDA checks imported foods

This year, as many as 15 million shipments of imported food are expected to enter the United States, the FDA said.

Among the ways the FDA works to ensure food imported to the U.S. is safe are on-site inspections overseas, requiring importers to verify that their suppliers are meeting U.S. food safety standards, allowing importers to get accredited to enable their good to enter the country faster, educating foreign suppliers about U.S. food safety rules and testing food at the border.

In addition, the FDA – which has arrangements in place with the governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand to rely on each other's food safety systems – is working on a similar agreement with the European Union.

The agency is active at more than 300 U.S. ports of entry.

William Hallman, a human ecology professor at Rutgers University, welcomed the FDA's focus on imported food.

"The bottom line is because the FDA is using data more effectively and efficiently to predict which products and suppliers to use their resources on, overall the food supply should be safer," he said.

Hallman pointed out that there will still be plenty of holes for stuff to slip through – and into the U.S.

"Using inspections to prevent contaminated foods from reaching the U.S. will never be completely effective. It is unlikely that the FDA will ever have the resources to inspect more than a fraction of the foods imported to the U.S. each year."

The FDA couldn't immediately answer what percentage of food imported to the U.S. is inspected.


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