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New US food safety bill means changes for importers

The US Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law on Jan. 4, will have a significant impact on food importers, who will need to focus on things like foreign supplier verification programs, certifications and inspections to comply with the new rules.

Regulations will require each importer to have a program to ensure that food produced outside the US is subject to procedures that provide the same level of public health protection as is required of producers in the US. Importers will be obligated to evaluate hazards that could affect food manufactured, processed, packed or held by an exporting facility and to implement controls to minimize or prevent the occurrence of such hazards. Suggested verification activities include monitoring records for shipments, lot-by-lot certification, annual on-site inspections, checking the hazard analysis and risk-based preventive control plans of foreign suppliers and periodically testing and sampling shipments.

In addition, importers may be required to certify that food imports comply with relevant provisions of the act. The bill charges the Department of Health and Human Services with making a risk-based determination of when and what type of certification or other assurances will be required. The risk-based determination will consider what food safety programs, systems and standards exist in the place of origin of the food. Possible forms of certification include shipment-specific certification or a listing of certified facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold the imported food.

Finally, to improve the safety of imported food further, the act calls for the identification and inspection of food at ports of entry. The Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, will allocate resources to inspect any article of food imported into the U.S. according to the known safety risks of that article. The act also calls for the inspection of foreign food facilities, suppliers and food types. If a foreign food facility denies inspection, or the government of a foreign country refuses to permit the entry of inspectors, imports of food from that facility will be refused admission into the US.

Officials suggest that importers review and update existing policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the new laws.

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