Michael Lieberman, Food & Beverage Practice Leader at Foa & Son Corp.
We have all heard that the food and beverage industries are facing increasing domestic and international pressure from governmental regulatory agencies. Within the past several months, I have received many questions concerning the FDA's newly enacted Foreign Supplier Verification Program, "FSVP" for short. Clients primarily wanted to know how to comply with FSVP, including what it takes to be a “Qualified Individual” (QI) as required by the law. Each import establishment needs to have a QI to create their FSVP plan.
While I have the ability to provide a relatively clear overview of FSVP, I am by no means an expert on the issue - but we know plenty of people who are!
Introducing Claudio Innocenti, an FDA-certified FSVP regulatory expert and principal consultant with United Safety Agents (USA). I first met Claudio at an Association of Foods Industry meeting in Newark, NJ where his expertise on this topic was apparent.
Claudio recently visited Foa & Son’s NYC office, and I, along with my colleague Sal Fazzolari, had the opportunity to learn more about these regulations and their impact on the industry. He explained what importers need to know, what options they have, and what’s ahead for the industry and this new set of food safety laws.
[Q] Michael: Let’s start at the beginning, as this topic may be quite foreign to some. What is FSVP, and why should importers be paying attention?
[A] Claudio: FSVP is a new 12,000-word law that will fundamentally change the way food importers conduct business. Put simply, the FSVP is a set of FDA food-safety regulations that require all importers bound by this law to verify that the food and food-related products they import are being produced in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection as those produced domestically.
Importers need to pay attention because compliance with FSVP is mandatory. Those that fail to meet the new requirements can face penalties ranging from a warning to imprisonment. The FDA is currently conducting regulatory audits and has made this new initiative their priority. Fortunately, there is still time to put a compliance plan in place.
[Q] Michael: You mentioned that FSVP is targeted to food importers. Are all food importers subject to FSVP?
[A] Claudio: All importers and imports of food and food-related products are subject to FSVP, with some exceptions.
Imports intended for food research purposes or personal consumption are exempt. Imports of juice and some of juice's raw ingredients are exempt. Imports of certain meat, poultry, and egg products are exempt. Imports of alcoholic beverages and some of the raw ingredients intended for use in alcoholic beverages are exempt. And imports of seafood are exempt.
It is important to mention that although the framers of this law have allowed for specific exceptions, there are many caveats to those exceptions. I strongly recommend that each importer conduct a thorough review of FSVP's applicability with respect to their individual circumstances.
[Q] Michael: When does FSVP come into effect?
[A] Claudio: It depends. The FDA has been rolling out FSVP compliance dates since May of 2017. The next mandatory deadline is March 19, 2018, with the following being March 18, 2019. Factors such as the importer's annual sales, number of people the importer employs, the size of the foreign suppliers they utilize, and the type of food they import are all used to determine the appropriate compliance date. Again, I would urge importers to read the law and determine their regulatory burden based on their individual situation.