Safety of food imports getting a boost – National Consumers League

Did you know that 20 percent of America’s food supply is imported from other countries, including half of our fresh fruit and 20 percent of the fresh vegetables we eat? Despite these significant numbers, the federal government has been, up until now, only inspecting 2 percent of these imports. According to new rules from the Food and Drug Administration, however, that is about to change.

Advocates at the National Consumers League (NCL) and other organizations concerned with the safety of the food supply are celebrating the recent proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for long-awaited import rules, a key component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which President Obama signed into law in January 2011.

According to experts at Pew Charitable Trusts, food imported from other countries accounts for a disproportionately high percentage of foodborne illness in the United States. Eight of the 19 multistate foodborne illness outbreaks that have occurred since President Obama signed FSMA into law in January 2011 were linked to imported foods, including pomegranate seeds, tahini sesame paste, cucumbers, ricotta salata cheese, mangoes, raw tuna, pine nuts and papayas. That number also includes the current 9-state hepatitis A outbreak linked to pomegranate seeds imported from Turkey that has sickened 153 people, 66 of whom have been hospitalized.

Advocates see these rules as instrumental for creating a food safety system, which works to prevent — not just respond to –foodborne illness outbreaks. The Foreign Supply Verification rule will require importers to ensure foreign suppliers meet U.S. standards. The Accredited Third Party Certification will only further strengthen the safety audits and certifications for food imports. According to the FDA, the new rules will shift the regulatory system toward prevention within the supply chain, instead of relying heavily on FDA inspectors to catch problems at the border or port of entry.

Think foodborne illness is too rare to worry about? Think again. It might be more common than you think, with major newsworthy outbreaks happening quite regularly. Check out these most recent outbreaks, as reported by USA Today.

2013 Foodborne illness outbreaks in imports:

June 2013: Hepatitis A

  • Nine states
  • Source: Turkish pomegranates in a frozen berry mix
  • 153 ill, 66 hospitalized, no deaths

May 2013: Salmonella Montevideo, Salmonella Mbandaka

  • Nine states.
  • Source: Tahini sesame paste from Turkey.
  • 16 ill, one hospitalized, one death.

April 2013: Salmonella Saintpaul

  • 18 states
  • Source: Cucumbers from Mexico.
  • 84 ill, 17 hospitalized, no deaths.