A computerized tool used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to assess the safety risk of food imported into the United States could be more effective, according to a recent analysis from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The tool is known as PREDICT and uses open source and other data to identify food shipments that might pose a greater safety risk and ensure that they receive greater scrutiny. importedfoods-406When FDA rolled out the system, the agency explained that PREDICT was designed to “assist entry reviewers in targeting higher-risk shipments for examination. It also expedites the clearance of lower-risk cargo, but only if accurate and complete data are provided by importers and entry filers.” “PREDICT improves import screening and targeting to prevent entry of adulterated, misbranded, or otherwise violative goods and expedites the entry of non-violative goods. PREDICT uses automated data mining, pattern discovery, and automated queries of FDA databases to determine the potential risk of a shipment. It takes into consideration the inherent risk of a product and also information about the previous history of importers, manufacturers and shippers,” the agency stated. Computer tools like PREDICT are more important than ever since FDA can only physically examine about 1 percent of all the imported food coming into the U.S. each year, and imports are continuing to grow. GAO analysts looked at FDA information from 2012-2014 and found that PREDICT was pretty good at flagging for physical examination those imported food items at higher risk of violating either safety regulations or labeling rules. However, GAO also noted there were two things FDA could do to make PREDICT even more useful. One is to set up a documentation process to identify those open-source data needed, acquire these data, and then determine how PREDICT should use them. In addition, GAO stated that new rules and other programs set up under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will result in more information for PREDICT to use in helping to assess the safety of imported foods. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)