The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “express lane” for food importers, the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), is now accepting applications for the period between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021, according to an FDA announcement issued February 3. Companies that import FDA-regulated food products may apply to participate in the VQIP program and have until May 31 to do so.

VQIP allows certain qualified foods to be imported under an expedited process that includes limited border examinations, expedited food sampling and expedited document review. In particular, food companies importing perishable products, or that are operating on tight inventory timelines, may benefit from VQIP participation.

FDA established VQIP to enable the expedited review and importation of food for importers who achieve and maintain a high level of control over the safety and security of their foreign supply chains, and in order to participate in the program, U.S. food importers must ensure that their foreign suppliers are certified through FDA’s Accredited Third-Party Certification Program, according to the announcement. Further, FDA has stated that it will work closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide expedited entry for VQIP food imports and assist to resolve any entry delays.

VQIP works in conjunction with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and does not replace other regulations to which food importers are subject, including the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). In fact, the VQIP program requires that food importers comply with FSVP importer verification and importer responsibilities.

On its VQIP information page, the agency outlined the necessary steps involved in applying to participate in the program, which include creating an online account with the FDA Industry Systems website, submitting a Notice of Intent to Participate, completing an Application to Participate, and finally, paying a user fee.