It will be easier for affected businesses to comply with import safety programs mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) if more and better information from the government is more quickly shared and limitations faced by small and mid-sized firms are taken into account. Those were some of the many sentiments expressed at three regional outreach meetings held in June by representatives of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a 22-page report FDA issued Friday.

FDA official checks imported zucchini.
Imported zucchini being spot-checked for quality.
The agency set up the meetings — in Costa Mesa, CA, Rutherford, NJ, and Detroit, MI — to give members of the public, importers, food producers and foreign and industry association representatives a chance to “provide information, share experiences and raise issues on implementation topics related to import safety.” The import safety regulations under FSMA include the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVPs), Accredited Third-Party Certification, and the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP). These FSMA rules are designed to enhance the security and safety of the supply chain for imported food, which FDA has estimated makes up 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, including 50 percent of our fresh fruit, 20 percent of our fresh vegetables, and 80 percent of our seafood. The regional meeting discussions focused on three main topics: the state of the import industry, VQIP, and education and outreach. After FDA officials listened to 350 importers, food producers, and foreign and industry association representatives and then analyzed related data, these four main themes emerged:

  • Members of industry want help in understanding what is required under the FSMA provisions, including clearer, concise information from FDA.
  • Small importers and food producers are at higher risk of failing to comply with FSVP.
  • Importers will likely consider cost, return on investment and effort necessary to participate when deciding whether to sign up for VQIP, which will provide expedited clearance to qualified participants.
  • FDA outreach and education efforts to foreign suppliers are considered of particular importance given the global scope of the issue.

More specifically, participants told the agency that they need help to understand what the new rules will require of them. For example, it would benefit them to know how compliance with the new rules will differ from current food safety practices. Providing case studies and organizing compliance information by sector and commodity would help importers and producers, as would FDA officials sharing information more freely, quickly, clearly, and concisely, they said. Training was also a major issue for meeting attendees, according to the report, with most industry members suggesting that FDA “leverage its large databases of registered importers and brokers to conduct targeted outreach activities by state, sector, and commodity” in order to target those who remain uninvolved.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)