This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took important new steps in its oversight of imported foods.
First, the FDA announced that it has recognized the first accreditation body under the voluntary Accredited Third-Party Certification Program created by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).The organization being recognized is ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), an organization jointly owned by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society for Quality (ASQ) based in Milwaukee, WI. This organization is being recognized because it met the applicable FDA requirements, validated through application review and on-site assessment. FDA is recognizing ANAB for a 5-year term of recognition.
Accreditation bodies recognized by FDA will have the authority to accredit third-party certification bodies, also known as third-party auditors. These certification bodies, once accredited, can conduct food safety audits and issue certifications of foreign food facilities (including farms) and the foods – both human and animal – that they produce.
Second, FDA has also launched the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), a voluntary fee-based program which offers expedited review and entry of human and animal food into the United States. Importers interested in participating in VQIP will be required to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include ensuring the facilities of their foreign supplier are certified under the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.
In addition to being used to establish VQIP eligibility, FDA can also require, in certain circumstances, that imported products, or the facilities that produce them, be certified before they enter the United States. While FDA does not generally require certification as a condition of entry into the United States, this is an important new tool granted by FSMA that will allow FDA to ensure that serious, ongoing food safety problems are corrected at their source.
These programs are additional tools FDA is using to help ensure that foods imported into the United States are produced in accordance with the same safety standards required of food produced domestically. Governments, agencies, or organizations that are interested in becoming recognized accreditation bodies may apply using FDA’s web-based application and submitting an application fee.