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July 11, 2017

Foreign Supplier Verification Program: Keeping Food Imports Safe

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety, FSMA

Twenty percent of the total United States’ food supply is imported. To break that down, 70% of our seafood is imported, as well as 35% of our fresh produce. That’s a lot, and it could likely include foods that are being distributed to your restaurants. So, how do we know that the imported food is safe? That’s why we have the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP).

FSVP is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and it protects food that is being imported into the United States. While the FDA hasn’t yet provided restaurants with specific guidance, there are still key aspects to familiarize yourself with, especially if you qualify as your company’s importer.

FSVP ensures that foreign foods are being supplied and imported safely. That means products must meet the same level of public health protection as required by U.S. FDA regulations. It also ensures that the food is neither adulterated nor mislabeled with respect to allergens.

What does this mean for your restaurant?

The FSVP applies to anyone who is considered an “importer” which is defined as “the U.S. owner or consignee of an article of food that is being offered for import into the United States.” If there is no U.S. owner or consignee of an article of food at the time of U.S. entry, the importer is the “U.S. agent or representative” of the foreign food supplier at the time of entry into the U.S.

Typically, in the restaurant industry, a third party distributor handles any importing of goods, rather than an internal representative. This means your distributor is responsible for ensuring your source for Italian olive oil or Greek olives is adhering to FSVP requirements. However, from a health department point of view, it is your responsibility to ensure that you’re receiving food in good condition. After all, It’s your brand and reputation that will take the hit for a foodborne illness outbreak.

Whether you or your distributor is functioning as the “importer,” it is important that you understand the requirements of the law. If you are not the importer, use this information to evaluate your distributor and to double check their adherence.

Meeting FDA Requirements

Under FSVP importers are responsible for:

  • Determining known or reasonably foreseeable hazards for each food product
  • Evaluating the risk posed by a food, based on a hazard analysis and the foreign supplier’s past performance
  • Following written procedures to ensure that they import foods only from approved sources
  • Developing an FSVP for each food brought into the U.S. and the foreign supplier of that food
  • Conducting supplier verification activities
  • Conducting corrective actions
  • Reevaluating the foreign supplier’s performance at least every three years

Conducting a Hazard Analysis

An important hazard analysis for FSMA is HARPC. This is especially important for imported foods, as importers need to identify and evaluate any hazards in food such as biological hazards, chemical hazards, and physical hazards.

The Hazard Analysis must also consider the following factors:

  • The formula of the food
  • Condition, function, and design of the establishment and equipment producing the food
  • Raw materials and other ingredients 
  • Harvesting, raising, manufacturing, and processing procedures
  • Packaging and labeling activities
  • Storage, distribution, and transportation
  • Intended or reasonably foreseeable use
  • Sanitation, including employee hygiene

Evaluating Food Risk and Supplier Performance 

When an importer evaluates its foreign suppliers, it must include an assessment of the following:

  • The foreign supplier’s hazard analysis  
  • A foreign supplier’s procedures, processes, and practices related to food safety
  • Applicable FDA food safety regulations regarding the foreign supplier’s compliance 
  • The foreign supplier’s food safety history, including responsiveness in correcting past problems 
  • Other factors as necessary, including storage and transportation practices

Based upon the evaluation conducted, the importer must establish and follow written procedures to ensure that it imports only from approved foreign suppliers.

Taking Corrective Actions

The unfortunate truth is that this isn’t a perfect system and some things can still go wrong. It’s crucial to promptly take corrective actions if it is found that a foreign supplier has not followed procedures ensuring public health protection, or that the supplier produces food that is either adulterated or mislabeled with respect to allergens. The appropriate corrective measures depend on the circumstances, but could include discontinuing use of the foreign supplier.

Want to Learn More About FSMA?

Check out our posts about FSMA and its impact on quick service restaurants, and our post about the Sanitary Transport Rule. While FSVP minimally impacts your restaurant directly, FSMA is igniting a major change in food safety across the industry.

Topics: Food Safety FSMA

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