As our population continues to grow in the United States, so does our demand for food and drink. So much so, in fact, that the food supply chain is increasingly reliant on imports to meet the growing demands of the American consumer.
Today, the United States imports about 15% of its food supply from other countries. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Other countries now supply about 32% of the fresh vegetables, 55% of the fresh fruit, and 94% of the seafood that Americans enjoy.”
As a result of this, the FDA announced the rollout of a digital toolkit as part of a broader imported food safety strategy. The approach aims at four goals, according to the FDA:
Preventing food safety problems in the foreign supply chain before entry into the United States
Effectively detecting and refusing entry of unsafe foods at U.S. borders
Responding quickly when the FDA learns of unsafe imported foods
Measuring our progress to ensure that our imported food safety program remains effective and efficient.
A Preventative Approach
The FDA’s preventative approach to food safety stems from the Food Safety and Modernization Act and its Foreign Supplier Verification Program provision, which requires importers to confirm suppliers meet U.S. food safety standards. The announcement reveals the agency has recently started inspections under this rule.
Additionally, the agency points to its rollout of its Accredited Third-Party Certification program and the establishment of its Voluntary Qualified Importer Program.
But the news here is the federal agency’s embrace of a digital solution to ensure unsafe foods don’t make it across the border.
“To advance our focus on preventive measures, the FDA’s new strategy also outlines how we’ll utilize a systems recognition program,” the FDA announced.
The program will evaluate and monitor other countries’ food safety programs to eliminate duplication of efforts, among other things.
Stopping Unsafe Foods
To help it stop tainted foods at the border, the FDA already uses an automated screening and review tool called Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT) that helps identify high-risk shipments.
The FDA adds that the agency “intends to optimize this tool by incorporating new sources of data from foreign supplier verification programs, voluntary importer incentive programs, accredited third-party auditors, foreign regulatory authorities and domestic supply chain activities.”
This upgrade should provide the agency with a more comprehensive look at imported foods and ingredients as they arrive.
Finally, the FDA revealed plans for a more robust recall program based on better access to data and more responsive communication, while also planning a better digital global inventory of food facilities and farms.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summed up the new efforts, saying, “Overall, our modern strategy leverages our different authorities and tools to provide a multi-layered, data-driven, smarter approach to imported food safety.”
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