Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) reaches beyond the U.S. borders

The impact of the FSMA is being felt not only by U.S. berry growers, packers and shippers, but for anybody outside of the U.S. borders exporting or interested in exporting fresh berries to U.S. markets.

Berry production (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries) continues to grow in countries south of the border. Recently the importance of the berry industry in that part of the world was highlighted at the 2nd Congreso Internacional de Berries de Mexico (2nd International Congress of Berries of Mexico). Among the topics of especial importance for U.S. berry growers and consumers around the world were those related to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), traceability and phytosanitary issues related to the movement of fruits across borders.

Under the new FSMA legislation, foreign companies will have to follow the same food safety and traceability requirements than growers, packers and shippers in the United States. Currently, American companies that are the major exporters of berries from Mexico and South America have already implemented strict food safety programs at their operations. That includes food safety training for pickers, farmworkers and personnel at packing facilities, and advanced traceability programs. This is very reassuring for U.S. consumers and for the berry industry in general.

Companies like Driscoll, Natureripe, North Bay and others that are heavily involved in the production and export of berries from Latin America are conscious about the importance of implementing strict GAP and food safety programs in farms and packing or shipping facilities dedicated to the international markets. They are aware that any food safety incident involving imported berries will hurt not only their business abroad, but also their local operations.

With this in mind, the organizers of the international congress invited Dr. Ana Lilia Sandoval, International Regulatory Affairs Analyst for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Mexico, to update the Mexican berry industry on the progress on the implementation of the FSMA. For those that were not aware of the FDA activities outside of the U.S. borders, the Food and Drug Administration, like theUSDA-APHIS, maintain an office in Mexico. Personnel assigned to this office are in charge of monitoring all issues related to food safety in shipment of fresh produce from Mexico to the United States.

The other important topic was related to phytosanitary issues associated with import and exports of fresh produce from foreign countries. Two issues were discussed: the preclearance of shipments and inspections at the Mexico and U.S. borders, or at ports of entry to the United States; and the spread of invasive insect pests across borders on shipments of fruit produced in problematic areas.

Marcos Bautista, USDA-APHIS  Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) preclearance program coordinator, explained to packers and shippers the process by which fruit shipments are allowed into the United States. He explained the difference between the inspection process conducted at the reception centers the USDA-APHIS has established in Mexico and the inspections at the border or port of entry to the United States. Bautista was able to clarify some misconceptions about the preclearance process and inspections at the border.

Some complaints from both Mexican and U.S. packers and shippers are related to the belief that once the shipment of berries has been inspected by the USDA-APHIS PPQ at the inspections center in the country of origin, the shipment should not be inspected anymore at the port of entry. He explained that inspections at the border are more related to bio-security than to phytosanitary issues that could have been already cleared by USDA-APHIS inspectors at the inspection center in the country of origin. However, if during the inspection at the port of entry unknown biological agents (insects, weeds, pathogens, etc.) are found, they turn the shipment to the USDA-APHIS inspectors for further identification and clearance.

In summary, the quality of the presentations and the speakers provided a wealth of information that will be of great benefit for those that participated in the 2nd International Congress of Berries of Mexico in Guadalajara, Mexico. It may also provide U.S. berry growers with insights into the future of the international berry market to take advantage of new opportunities south of the border.

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