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Importing and Exporting Food

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Importing and Exporting Food

Introduction to Food Law
Overview of US Food Law
Government "Players" Involved in US Food Law
Requirements for Food Businesses

Producer/Processor/Preparer Liability
Looking Forward/Future Issues


To import into the United States, the food must meet the same U.S. requirements as domestically produced food items. Importing food involves several agencies:  FDA, USDA, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  It is a collaborative effort among the agencies.

  • How do I import food (canned goods, meat, vegetables, fruits, bulk foods, etc.) for resale?
    • Firm needs to be registered and prior notice of shipment needs to be provided; these requriements are administered by the FDA
      • "foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States [are required] to register with the FDA" taken from Registration of Food Facilities
      • "Bioterrorism Act [2002] ... requires that FDA receive prior notice before food is imported or offered for import into the United States. Advance notice of import shipments allows FDA, with the support of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to target import inspections more effectively and help protect the nation's food supply against terrorist acts and other public health emergencies." taken from Prior Notice of Imported Foods
      • See 21 CFR part 1
        • Facility registration -- 21 CFR §§1.225 to 1.243
        • Prior notice of imports -- 21 CFR §§1.276 to 1.285
        • Records -- 21 CFR §§1.326 to 1.363
        • Product Detention -- 21 CFR §§1.377 to 1.393
    • Imports of fruits and vegetables are admininstered by the APHIS in USDA
      • "An APHIS Import permit is required for all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables entering the United States, except for those items listed on the “ALL COUNTRIES LIST”."
    • Imports of meat and poultry are administered by FSIS in USDA
      • " FSIS is responsible for assuring that U.S. imported meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled and packaged."
    • FDA is responsible for administering the imports of all other foods.

Basic concepts to recall

  • FDA's Import Program System Information
    • "All imported products are required to meet the same standards as domestic goods. Imported foods must be pure, wholesome, safe to eat, and produced under sanitary conditions ...
  • FSIS Import Procedures For Meat, Poultry, And Egg Products; Equivalence Process
    • "Meat and poultry products exported from another nation must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the United States. However, under international law, food regulatory systems in exporting countries may employ sanitary measures that differ from those applied domestically by the importing country. The United States makes determinations of equivalence by evaluating whether foreign food regulatory systems attain the appropriate level of protection provided by our domestic system. Thus, while foreign food regulatory systems need not be identical to the U.S. system, they must employ equivalent sanitary measures that provide the same level of protection against food hazards as is achieved domestically. FSIS evaluates foreign food regulatory systems for equivalence through document reviews, on-site audits, and port-of-entry reinspection of products at the time of importation."
  • International Harmonization
    • "The harmonization of laws, regulations and standards between and among trading partners is important to food safety and requires intense, complex, time-consuming negotiations ... Harmonization must simultaneously facilitate international trade and promote mutual understanding, while protecting national interests and establishing a basis to resolve food issues on sound scientific evidence in an objective atmosphere. "


Some details




The general practice is that the importing nation will require that the product comply with all the laws and standards of the importing nation.

Exporting Food Products from the United States (FDA web site)

Export Certificates  (explains FDA's minimal but expanding role in issuing export certificates for foods under its jurisdiction)

  • "While FDA is looked to by the U.S. food industry and foreign governments as the competent authority to attest to the safety of U.S.-produced foods, it has neither the legislative mandate to issue export certificates for foods, nor general authority to collect fees for export certificates that the agency may choose to issue on a discretionary basis. Moreover, FDA does not now receive other federal funds that might be transferred to FDA from another agency's fee-supported certificate program in order to provide FDA staff support for inspectional or administrative activities needed to maintain lists of "export eligible firms". Such lists are based primarily on FDA's domestic enforcement and inspectional findings. In some cases, FDA must obtain inspectional information, review the findings and assess the general compliance history of candidate firms before another, fee-supported U.S. agency can issue an export certificate."

    Taken from "FDA-Issued/Supported Export Certificates for Foods"

  • Agencies of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) with responsibilities for food safety and quality and for other food-related issues are currently authorized, in some circumstances, to collect fees associated with issuance of export certificates for designated agricultural products, including foods. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has authority to collect fees and to issue export certificates for foods under its authority -- meat, poultry, processed egg products -- when a foreign government's requirements are different than those covered by U.S. regulations. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) charges fees for issuance of food-related export certificates pertaining to plant and animal health issues. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has fee authority for food export certificates for issues relevant to product quality and to certain food safety attributes. The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) collects fees for export certificates for various aspects of grain safety and quality.

See FSIS USDA Export Information

"The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce is authorized to collect fees to recover both the inspectional and administrative costs associated with its issuance of export certificates for fish and fishery products under its Seafood Inspection Program (SIP). FDA, as the principal federal agency in the United States responsible for seafood safety, is also requested by the U.S. seafood industry and foreign governments to attest to the safety of U.S. harvested/produced seafood and to issue export certificates. FDA issues such certificates on a discretionary basis, but does not recover any of the administrative costs associated with this activity."

    Taken from "FDA-Issued/Supported Export Certificates for Foods"

  • Also see 21 CFR 1.101 -- recordkeeping requirements for exported products.

State agencies may also provide the export certificate.

Traceability is not unique to the United States; see Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards -- EU Traceability Guidelines, EU-25. 2005.


Last updated April 24, 2010

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