Newly-issued report describes trends in FDA import refusals.

  • FDA is responsible for overseeing the safety of the U.S. food supply, which includes significant quantities of imported food.  Due in part to resource constraints, FDA inspects only a fraction of the foreign facilities that produce food for the U.S. and physically examines only a small percentage of shipments offered for import.  The Agency uses a risk-based approach to prioritize inspections.  The Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) periodically analyzes FDA import refusal patterns to develop a better understanding of the countries and products that pose the greatest risk to U.S. consumers.
  • ERS has just released a report analyzing food import refusals from 2005-2013.  The following list provides the food product categories that accounted for the majority of shipments refused, along with their refusal rates and the most common reason for refusal within each category:
    • (1) fishery and seafood products – 20.5% refusal rate – sanitary violations/filth;
    • (2) vegetable products – 16.1% refusal rate – unsafe pesticide residues;
    • (3) fruit products – 10.5% refusal rate – sanitary violations/filth;
    • (4) spices, flavors, and salts – 7.7% refusal rate – Salmonella contamination; and
    • (5) candy without chocolate and chewing gum – 7.2% refusal rate – unsafe color additives.
  • The countries with the most shipments refused were Mexico, India, and China, each of which had distinct product categories subject to the most refusals, i.e., vegetables, spices, and seafood, respectively.
  • ERS notes in its report that despite the increase in import volume over the 8-year period analyzed, FDA’s overall refusal rate has remained stable.  The data do not permit researchers to draw conclusions about the reason for this trend — it could be due to foreign suppliers’ improved compliance practices, or it could be due to continued strain on FDA’s resources and capacity to inspect, detain, and refuse imported food.  It will be particularly interesting to see what the next ERS report on this topic indicates, as the next analysis presumably will include the time period in which FDA’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) will have taken effect.