The Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) was published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November 2015. It requires that importers or their agents ensure foreign food suppliers meet the same food safety standards required of domestic food manufacturers. For the purpose of the FSVP, an importer is a U.S. owner or consignee of food imported into the U.S. This means that restaurants, grocery stores, food distribution companies, and the like may be subject to the FSVP if they are purchasing directly from foreign suppliers.

To minimize the risk of consumers contracting foodborne illnesses, the FSVP rule requires that importers take the following steps when importing food from outside the U.S.:

  • Conduct a hazard risk analysis for each type of food to determine whether the product presents any biological, chemical, or physical hazards that require a control;
  • Use the hazard analysis to evaluate the risk posed by the food and determine whether the foreign supplier’s performance is adequate to control the risk and comply with FDA food safety requirements;
  • Establish and execute supplier verification activities sufficient to validate that foreign suppliers are producing food consistent with FDA requirements for known and reasonably foreseeable food risks, which may include audits of a foreign supplier’s facility, food testing, or review of a supplier’s food safety records; and
  • Conduct corrective action if a foreign supplier has used inappropriate processes and procedures or produces food that is adulterated or misbranded with respect to allergen labeling.

The FDA staggered the effective dates for the rule based on the size of each supplier’s operation and each supplier’s deadline to comply with the other Food Safety Modernization Act rules. In addition to certain importers who became subject to the rule in 2017 and earlier this year, on July 26, 2018, three types of importers must comply with the FSVP:

  • Importers whose small business foreign supplier is required to comply with the sprout requirements of the Produce Safety rule;
  • Importers whose small business foreign supplier is a farm producing sprouts that is eligible for a qualified exemption under the Produce Safety rule; and
  • Importers whose large foreign suppliers are required to comply with the Produce Safety rule.

If you are an importer of foreign foods to whom the FSVP rule already applies, you must implement the measures stated above. Even if you are an importer whose foreign supplier does not yet have to comply with the FSVP rule, you should begin developing a verification program so that you are prepared to adhere to the rule when it becomes effective for your operation.