( File photo )

Tasked with shifting food safety oversight from a reactive to proactive role, the Food and Drug Administration has released a plan on methods to stop unsafe food from being imported into the U.S.

The Food Safety Modernization Act upgrades the role of the FDA, allowing it to mandate standards for foreign growers, processors and packers to be equal to standards in the U.S.

According to the FDA, the U.S. imports 55% of the fruit and 32% of the vegetables consumed each year.

The “FDA Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food” outlines a number of initiatives to ramp food safety efforts in other countries, including:

  • Optimize the use of foreign facility inspections and allocate resources to other oversight activities based on risk
  • Hold foreign suppliers to U.S. food safety standards and importers to foreign supplier verification requirements
  • Allow information from third-party audits and other programs aligned with U.S requirements
  • Work with domestic and foreign regulatory counterparts on food and facility oversight by sharing data; and
  • Provide training/outreach to foreign industry, importers, brokers, and regulatory counterparts to increase compliance.

“By leveraging partnerships between the U.S. and other countries with very strong food safety systems through our systems recognition program, we’re able to prioritize our inspection and border screening activities on foods imported from higher-risk areas,” according to a statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas. “In turn, we’re better positioned to verify the safety of food products presented for import.”

Canada, New Zealand and Australia have been approved as comparable by the systems recognition program. The FDA is working on an assessment of European Union food safety regulations, as well as Mexico.

“Determining the best way to use the full range of available tools across the different segments of the international food-supply chain — in ways that decrease public health risks while maintaining a level playing field for domestic and foreign producers — requires both dexterity and pragmatism,” according to an FDA news release. “This strategy document describes how FDA is integrating the new import oversight tools with existing tools as part of a comprehensive approach to imported food safety.”

The FDA’s strategy is guided by four goals:

  • Imported food must meet U.S. food safety requirements;
  • FDA border surveillance will prevent unsafe food from being imported;
  • There will be a rapid and effective response to unsafe imports; and
  • An effective and efficient food import program will be established.