FDA: Stronger enforcement against mislabeled foods

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Imports of mis-labeled foods more risky

Since the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, the US Food & Drug Administration has ratchet up the efforts to stop the distribution of food deemed to be unsafe, mislabeled, adulterated.

Binding rule on administrative detentions. On February 4, the agency announced a final and binding rule hat allows FDA inspectors to detain any food shipments within the United States that are believed to be adulterated or misbranded. Prior to FSMA, the FDA could only enforce administrative detentions if there was clear evidence that the shipment was risky for public health. The decision to order administrative detentions are made on a “case by case” basis, using a “risk-based approach” and with “preventions-based goals”, states the FDA.

Food recalls, both voluntary and mandated, are now a daily occurrence, as shown on the FDA website. The main reason for recalls: undeclared substances that can cause allergic reaction or are risky to human health. The FDA now issues more warning letters and untitled letters asking for voluntary recalls than ever before. In September 2012, the agency even used its new powers under FSMA to order the shut down of a large nut processor, Sunland Inc., which has since reopened after reassuring the public that the closed plant had implemented greater safety controls.

Border detentions We hear that the number of containers held at the border for further inspection has gone up dramatically over the last two years. This may be due to newly hired FDA or Customs agents who are more careful about potentially mislabeled or adulterated imports. Even private citizens bringing food into the country are not immune from border controls. As reported from Seattle, a group of US citizens who had bought Kinder Surprise Eggs (those with toys, which are not allowed for sale in the US) in Canada for their personal use got in serious trouble at the Canadian/US border. The border detentions are different from administrative detentions inside the country, however, and are ordered based on different standards.

Our recommendation to exporters: make sure you that your products are produced and labeled according to US safety standards. The labeling laws are still kept vague and are open for interpretations. It remains the manufacturers risk to interpret the laws correctly.

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