Food Safety and Imports – Prepare for Stricter Oversight

Did you know that nearly two-thirds of all fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S. and 80% of pharmaceutical ingredients, including those of nutritional goods, are imported from abroad? Also, did you know that food imports to the U.S. have quadrupled over the past decade? It is a daunting task for the FDA to manage and police these imports coming into the US from so many countries, with many unique systems and their own regulatory agencies, and until now without the necessary oversight. To put the mountain of work required to assure complete safety, government investigators estimated in 2008 that the FDA would need 1,900 years to check every foreign food plant at its rate of inspections at the time. And with imports growing faster than the agency’s inspection force, those numbers have only grown. Well, things have changed, as of late. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), passed in January 2011 provides enforcement powers to the FDA to suspend, recall or stop an import based on safety inspections. This law also stipulates that the FDA set-up field offices in countries outside the United States, and start inspecting food facilities.

"The shift in global product flows will make it difficult to identify the `source' of a product and to ensure that all players along the supply chain meet their safety and quality responsibilities," states the report.

An FDA report issued on June 18, 2011 lays out plans to deal with the globalization of our food supply chain.  The FDA's plan includes implementing computerized systems for tracking imports and improved collaboration with regulators in developing countries.

So now is the time for food and beverage manufacturers to get ready for increased oversight of regulations. The FDA plans include creating global coalition of regulators using a global data information system -  a clearing house database of food safety vendors and facilities. What this provides the regulators is a common data format, a common system to get data and share easily, when situations call for tracing, tracking, halting and recalling tainted food items. Vendors must start by thinking about systems out there that can easily capture relevant data, analyze and report based on the specific formats that local and international agencies demand. These EDI based solutions integrated with your supply chain system will make it easier for you to join the FDA system when that comes on line. Besides, it is a good business practice to develop, monitor and collaborate within your supply chain, as part of a supplier quality management initiative. This is what best-in-class manufacturers are doing.

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