FDA Proposes Label Requirements for Refused Imported FoodsSep 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In an effort to protect the beleaguered American food supply, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just now issued a proposed rule designed to reduce "port shopping," a practice which places imported food safety at risk. "This system will make it more difficult for food importers to evade import controls after being denied admission into the United States," said Randall Lutter, Ph.D., deputy commissioner for policy. "It will complement our ongoing efforts to monitor food imports."
Today, when the FDA refuses to admit a tainted food into the United States, that food must be exported or destroyed; however, some attempt to return the refused food back into the United States—in the same condition as when it was refused—by shipping the rejected items to another U.S. port. The regulation would require shipping containers of food barred from entry, as well as any accompanying documents, be labeled as refused, making it easier for the FDA to better identify previously-refused food.
This new proposed rule implements a provision of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which provided the FDA with new authority to protect the nation’s food supply. Also, under the rule, all owners or consignees of refused food would be required to affix a label to the shipping container that reads: "UNITED STATES: REFUSED ENTRY" in clear and conspicuous print. Likewise, a label must be affixed to all documents accompanying the food including invoices, bills of lading, and electronic documents. The FDA is accepting comment on the proposed regulation for 75 days following its publication in the Federal Register.
Americans have been plagued with a number of food-borne outbreaks. Of greatest note was the recent and massive Mexican pepper outbreak that sickened over 1400 people who consumed fresh imported jalapeno and serrano peppers from Mexico. This outbreak of salmonella Saintpaul was the largest food borne illness outbreak in a decade. Although the FDA did not ban Mexican jalapenos and serrano pepper imports, it increased testing at border checkpoints and restricted pepper imports from 12 Mexican firms because of salmonella. Future shipments from those 12 firms must test free of Salmonella before the FDA will release them for sale. Meanwhile, an Associated Press analysis of FDA records revealed peppers and chilies were consistently the top Mexican crop rejected by border inspectors this last year, which begs the question as to why it took this year’s massive Salmonella outbreak for the FDA to improve its screening of companies known for shipping dirty chilies? In general, the federal government inspects less than one percent of foreign food entering the U.S.; 84 percent of all fresh peppers eaten in the U.S. originate from Mexico.
Initially, tomatoes were blamed in that outbreak, costing tomato growers millions in lost sales. Most experts believe that if better record keeping was in place, tomatoes might not have been mistakenly blamed in the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak.