The federal Food and Drug Administration Thursday unveiled its plan for improving food safety in countries that export food to the United States. The document fulfills one of the mandates of the Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted by Congress in 2011, which calls on FDA to “develop a comprehensive plan to increase the technical, scientific, and regulatory food safety capacity of foreign governments [that export to the U.S.] and their respective food industries.” FDA has responded to this call this week with its International Food Safety Capacity-Building Plan, which focuses on improving the safety of food production and pathogen surveillance in foreign countries. To accomplish this, the agency will bolster food safety training for food manufacturers and regulators abroad, improve communication with foreign health agencies and explore the possibility of a foreign inspection report that would be considered the equivalent of an FDA inspection. The agency outlines four main goals in its plan. These include:

  • Ensuring the efficiency of FDA’s Foods and Veterinary Medicine program, which is responsible for overseeing the planning and implementation of FSMA.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of international food safety initiatives by monitoring their direct effects on public health. The agency makes it clear that it will be sensitive to the different food safety risks of each country, and will tailor its policies accordingly.
  • Support the exchange of information between FDA and other foreign government agencies or other entities by tapping into the latest technologies that permit such sharing.
  • Enhance technical assistance and capacity-building. This goal includes bolstering training of foreign food manufacturers and auditors, and pushes for universal lab testing techniques so that surveillance information can easily be shared from country to country

Today, an estimated 15 percent of food consumed in the U.S. is imported. A full 50 percent of fresh fruits and 20 percent of fresh vegetables come from other countries, and 80 percent of U.S. seafood is imported. This report highlights the importance of monitoring these foods not only when they enter the U.S., but also as they are manufactured in their country of origin. “The responsibility for safe food must move upstream in the supply chain, closer to the source of the food,” says FDA in its report. Waters Corp., which has supported the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL) in its initiative to train microbiologists around the world in the best practices for pathogen testing, praised the plan Thursday. “This report makes clear why capacity building is critical to improving food safety as trade continues to soar and speaks to the important role public-private partnerships play in food safety,” said Paul Young, the senior director of Food & Environment Business Operations for Waters. “No one organization, program or government can ensure the safety of the world’s food supply on its own.  The challenge is too big. It requires collaboration to ensure safety across what is a long and complicated supply chain.” The agency says it will implement the plan over the next five years, provided that it has adequate funding to do so. The plan is part of a larger initiative on the part of the agency to expand its reach to the countries that produce the U.S.’s imported foods and impact food safety there, at its root, before food travels here. “Over the next 10 years, FDA will be working to transform itself from a predominantly domestically focused agency, operating in a globalized economy, to an internationally focused agency, fully prepared for a regulatory environment in which FDA-regulated products know no borders,” says the agency in its plan. FDA also reviews its existing initiatives to improve global food safety. The agency has set up offices in China, India, Latin America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific. The agency said it intends to rely on officials in these areas for expertise on food safety issues local to these regions.