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In one more step toward improved oversight of imported foods, FDA unveiled a new section of the FDA Industry Systems (FIS) websiteon June 21, 2017, to allow organizations – including foreign governments and agencies or private third-parties – to apply for recognition as third-party accreditation bodies under the FSMA voluntary Accredited Third-Party Certification program.

The accredited bodies will accredit third-party auditors, who can then conduct food safety audits of foreign food entities and issue certifications that qualify them for the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP). Under VQIP, U.S. importers can use the certifications by foreign entities to secure expedited entry of food shipments.

The accreditation bodies will monitor the performance of the third-party auditors and submit reports to FDA. Third-party auditors accredited under the program must conduct unannounced facility audits, notify FDA of any serious public health risk, and must ensure that their agents are competent and objective.

The VQIP allows for two kinds of audits, regulatory and consultative, but only a regulatory audit can be used for certification. For regulatory audits, the auditor must submit an audit report to the FDA within 45 days of the audit.

Under fee-based VQIP, FDA may grant recognition to an accreditation body for up to five years.

Water Standards Delay

In another significant move last month, FDA announced that it plans to extend the compliance dates for agricultural water standards under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, except in the case of sprouts. The agency is considering simplifying the standards, which have proved to be some of the most challenging to develop in the entire FSMA rulemaking process.

The agency said it remains committed to protecting public health while implementing rules that are “workable.” FDA said it will extend the compliance dates “using appropriate procedures at a later time.” It has not decided how long the extension will be. So, at least for now, that’s an indefinite delay.

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