The FDA FSMA rule on Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals is final, and the first compliance dates begin May 30, 2017.
The final rule requires that importers perform certain risk-based activities to verify that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. safety standards. This rule is the product of a significant level of outreach by the FDA to industry, consumer groups, the agency’s federal, state, local, tribal and international regulatory counterparts, academia and other stakeholders. The FDA first proposed this rule in July 2013.
After input received during the comment period and during numerous engagements that included public meetings, webinars, and listening sessions, the FDA issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in September 2014. The proposed revisions included providing importers flexibility in determining appropriate verification measures based on food and supplier risks, while acknowledging the greater risk to public health posed by the most serious hazards in foods.
The final rule has elements of both the original and supplemental proposals, with the addition of greater flexibility in meeting certain requirements to better reflect modern supply and distribution chains. For example, importers can meet key FSVP obligations by relying on analyses, evaluations and activities performed by other entities in certain circumstances, as long as those importers review and assess the corresponding documentation.
The FDA is committed to helping importers the FSVP requirements. In order to facilitate compliance FDA will provide guidance, outreach and training.
Who is covered by the rule?
For the purposes of FSVP, an importer is the U.S. owner or consignee of a food offered for import into the United States. If there is no U.S. owner or consignee, the importer is the U.S. agency or representative of the foreign owner of consignee at the time of entry, as confirmed in a signed statement of consent. See Am I Subject to FSVP? (PDF: 69KB)for more information.
There are exemptions discussed below.
What is an FSVP? It is a program that importers covered by the rule must have in place to verify that their foreign suppliers are producing food in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection as the preventive controls or produce safety regulations, as appropriate, and to ensure that the supplier’s food is not adulterated and is not misbranded with respect to allergen labeling.
Importers are responsible for actions that include (and are explained further below):
Determining known or reasonably foreseeable hazards with each food
Evaluating the risk posed by a food, based on the hazard analysis, and the foreign supplier’s performance
Using that evaluation of the risk posed by an imported food and the supplier’s performance to approve suppliers and determine appropriate supplier verification activities
Conducting supplier verification activities
Conducting corrective actions
Importers must establish and follow written procedures to ensure that they import foods only from foreign suppliers approved based on an evaluation of the risk posed by the imported food and the supplier’s performance or, when necessary on a temporary basis, from unapproved suppliers whose foods are subjected to adequate verification activities before being imported.
Importers are required to develop, maintain and follow an FSVP for each food brought into the United States and the foreign supplier of that food. If the importer obtains a certain food from a few different suppliers, a separate FSVP would be required for each of those suppliers. Similarly, if the importer obtains many different foods from a single supplier, a separate FSVP would be required for each food.
Certain importers that are also manufacturers/processors are deemed in compliance with most FSVP requirements if
they are in compliance with the supply-chain program requirements under the preventive controls rules;
they implement preventive controls for the hazards in the food in accordance with the requirements in the preventive controls rules; or
they are not required to implement preventive controls under those rules in certain specified circumstances. Examples of such circumstances include when the type of food (e.g., such as coffee beans) could not be consumed without application of a preventive control, or when the customer will be significantly minimizing or preventing identified hazards) and they comply with requirements for disclosures and written assurances.
The evaluation of the risk posed by the imported food and the supplier’s performance must be reevaluated at least every three years, or when new information comes to light about a potential hazard or the foreign supplier’s performance.
Importers are not required to evaluate the food and supplier or conduct supplier verification activities if they receive adequate assurances that a subsequent entity in the distribution chain, such as the importer’s customer, is processing the food for food safety in accordance with applicable requirements. FDA has extended the compliance date for obtaining these written assurances for two years. However, as required by the final rule, importers must disclose in documents accompanying the food that the food is not processed to control the identified hazard.
2. Hazard Analysis
What do we mean by ‘hazard’? An importer is required to identify and evaluate—based on experience, illness data, scientific reports and other information—the known or reasonably foreseeable hazards for each type of food it imports to determine if there are any hazards requiring a control. These include:
Biological hazards, including parasites and disease-causing bacteria
Chemical hazards, including radiological hazards, pesticide and drug residues, natural toxins, food decomposition, unapproved food or color additives, and food allergens
Physical hazards, such as glass
They may be hazards reasonably likely to cause illness or injury that occur naturally, are unintentionally introduced, or are intentionally introduced for purposes of economic gain, such as substituting a less costly ingredient.
The analysis must assess the probability that these hazards will occur in the absence of controls and the severity of the illness or injury that could occur.
The evaluation would have to consider factors that include the:
Formulation of the food
Condition, function and design of the establishment and equipment of a typical entity that produces the food
Raw materials and other ingredients
Harvesting, raising, manufacturing, processing and packing procedures
Packaging and labeling activities
Storage and distribution
Intended or reasonably foreseeable use
Sanitation, including employee hygiene
An importer can rely on another entity to conduct the hazard analysis, so long as the importer reviews and assesses the relevant documentation.
3. Evaluation of Food Risk and Supplier Performance
What evaluation must be done of the risk posed by an imported food and a supplier’s performance? An importer must evaluate:
The hazard analysis
The entity that will be significantly minimizing or preventing the hazards, such as the foreign supplier or the supplier’s raw material or ingredient supplier
A foreign supplier’s procedures, processes and practices related to the safety of food,
Applicable FDA food safety regulations, and information regarding the foreign supplier’s compliance
The foreign supplier’s food safety history, including the responsiveness of the foreign supplier in correcting past problems
Other factors as necessary, including storage and transportation practices
The importer can rely on another entity (other than the foreign supplier) to perform the evaluation of risk, so long as the importer reviews and assesses the relevant documentation.
4. Supplier Verification
What supplier verification activities must be conducted? Based upon the evaluation of risk conducted, the importer must establish and follow written procedures to ensure, in most instances, that it only imports from approved foreign suppliers and must conduct appropriate supplier verification activities.
Importers have the flexibility to tailor supplier verification activities to unique food risks and supplier characteristics. The options include:
Annual on-site audits of the supplier’s facility. This is generally required when there is a reasonable probability that exposure to a hazard controlled by the foreign supplier will result in serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals (called a SAHCODHA hazard). However, the importer can choose another means of verification provided that the importer documents that the alternate choice is appropriate and provides adequate assurances that the foreign supplier is producing the food in accordance with applicable U.S. safety standards.
Sampling and testing
A review of the supplier’s relevant food safety records
An importer can rely on another entity (other than the foreign supplier) to determine and perform appropriate supplier verification activities, so long as the importer reviews and assesses the relevant documentation.
5. Corrective Actions
What if something goes wrong? Importers must promptly take appropriate corrective actions if they determine that a foreign supplier has not used processes and procedures that provide the same level of public health protection as required under the produce safety and preventive controls regulations, as applicable, or that the supplier produces food that is adulterated or misbranded with respect to allergen labeling.
The appropriate corrective measure will depend on the circumstances, but could include discontinuing use of the foreign supplier until the cause of noncompliance, adulteration or misbranding has been adequately addressed.