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Rethinking The Safety Of Imported Foods

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

You see it on a grocery shelf.  Rest easy you think – all food that’s sold in the United States is safe due to the strict standards that the USDA and the food industry has implemented.  Think again.

A recent study shows that as the volume of imported food has risen in our country, the level of inspections for those imports has fallen off.

Nationwide, the FDA said that last year it rejected nearly 16,000 food-related shipments out of more than 10 million that arrived in more than 320 ports.

“If it comes in here and it’s bad,” said Denise Williams, a supervisor in the FDA’s Division of Import Operations in Southern California, “we’re gonna get ‘em.”

And “get ’em” they do.  But, inspectors can’t get to all of it.  In fact, only 2% of all imported food gets scrutinized.

The FDA has about 1,800 investigators who oversee more than 44,000 U.S. food manufacturers and more than 100,000 additional registered food facilities, such as warehouses and grain elevators.

At the same time, the agency is responsible for nearly 200,000 foreign food facilities that have registered with the FDA in order to import the millions of food shipments that arrive in the U.S. each year.

With numbers like that, “Where would you want the people?” Nielsen said. “Would you want some people at the border? Well, there’s very few.”

FDA Public Affairs Officer Patricia El-Hinnawy said the number of investigators assigned to examine imported food shipments nationally is 277 full-time equivalents. That’s just five more than in 2009. These employees do field exams, sample collections and conduct security reviews, among other things, at ports of entry around the country.

Nielsen said the FDA’s food import operations are “still a bastard child” within the FDA. Until the agency sets up a separate, well-financed division devoted to food imports,

Flood of food imported, just 2 percent inspected – Health – Food safety –

(NOTE:  The use of the image of Apollo Apples is only meant as an example of imported food.  Usage does not make any implication of the inspection levels of said product)

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