Importing Food Into the US: A Menu for Border Ease
Expanding appetites & food safety standards
With an ever-growing palate for global tastes and treats, importing food into the USA is deliciously lucrative. According to the FDA, the US imports 15% of all of its food – census data in 2018 shows that the US imported over $2.5T in food, including machinery, packaging, and ingredients.
The food import industry in the USA is a multiple trillion dollar industry that continues to grow, even with an increased focus on locally sourced food. It’s no surprise that so many of A & A’s clients have chosen importing food into the USA as the recipe for their pleasantly plump bottom lines.
In response to a need for enhanced food security, the FDA enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011.
Safety Standards for Foreign Importers: Increased Expectations
The FDA has shifted away from a reactive stance on preventing food-borne illnesses and contamination, towards a proactive, prevention-based process. The same standards apply for domestic food growers, manufacturers, packers, and holders as they do for foreign importers, i.e., you.
The FDA’s imported food safety goals fall into three categories:
- Preventing food safety problems in the foreign supply chain prior to entry into the United States,
- Effectively detecting and refusing entry of unsafe foods at the border, and
- Rapidly responding when FDA learns of unsafe imported foods.
An overarching fourth goal is to create an effective and efficient food import program.
In addition to new food safety standards, the FSMA has authorized the FDA new, supplementary oversight and enforcement powers to ensure the industry is meeting important safety and regulatory standards. This applies to domestic and foreign food producers/importers.
Getting started on satiating your US consumers
We’re here to make importing easy for you! Follow our guide and checklist to get your food import recipe started.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as an importer, you have the option of hiring a Customs Broker to file your entry. You can also do it yourself, but straight from the CBP,
“There are so many details to handle when importing food items, we strongly advise using a broker.” A & A has been working with food importers all over the world for over 30 years and specializes in importing food and food products into the USA.
Still, we’ve broken down the most crucial pieces of information you need to know for importing food into the US. If you find yourself wishing you had a dedicated customs broker to assist you, you’ve come to the right place.
Importing Food Into the USA: Checklist
- Register your facility with the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA)
- Register for Prior Notice Submission
- Obtain all required permits
- Know, understand and follow the FDA requirements for your food product(s)
- Packaging: ensure all labeling requirements are done completely and correctly
1. Register your facility with the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA)
Any importer can import their food products into the United States without prior sanction of the FDA, provided the facility is registered with the FDA and they give prior notice to the FDA of food shipments. As long as the facilities that produce, store, or otherwise handle the products are registered with FDA, and prior notice of incoming shipments is provided to FDA, there should be no issue.
Under provisions of the U.S. law contained in the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, importers of food products intended for introduction into U.S. commerce are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to U.S. requirements.
Registration details and access are available on the FDA website, here.
2. Register, Manage and fulfill Prior Notice documentation
In order to import food into the US, you must register with the FDA. You can do that here. All importers of food under US requirements must have fulfilled complete Prior Notice (PN) documentation. They can be submitted online, provided you have an account and ID set up.
If products contain meat, egg, milk, poultry, or other animal origin products, additional permits, health certificates, and/or other specified certifications from the country of origin may be required.
Prior notice is required to:
- Review and evaluate information before a food product arrives in the U.S.
- Better deploy resources to conduct inspections
- Help intercept contaminated products
An Import Specialist is recommended, but not mandatory. The FDA will communicate with you or your broker throughout the inspection scheduling process and for verification of food safety requirements.
The CBP will not release food shipments without proof that PN has been filed with FDA, making it essential that the PN satisfied number is submitted to CBP along with the entry documents. The PN satisfied number should be annotated on the shipping documents (i.e. bill of lading or airway bill).
Should you wish to speak with a US stateside agent, the FDA does provide a list of agents. The Import Specialist can let you know about requirements and restrictions on the items you want to import.
3. Obtain all required permits
The CBP assigns an Import Specialist at each port of entry that you may consult with regarding the requirements for your particular food product. They also highly recommend hiring a customs broker that can assist with your CBP entry. A & A agents are trained and ready for all of this, and can get your process started on your behalf.
All food products imported into the US must be accompanied by requisite permits as dictated by the FDA.
Products regulated by the FDA are subject to review by the FDA when they are offered for entry into the U.S. The FDA electronically reviews all FDA-regulated entries submitted through the CBP FDA-regulated products imported into the U.S. must comply with all of the FDA’s laws and regulations. The importer is responsible for making sure these products comply with all U.S. requirements. Products which do not comply with U.S. requirements at the time of importation are subject to refusal of admission.
Your customs broker will be able to provide you with details on these inspections. Working with a customs broker is your best bet at ensuring your shipments pass inspection and are not hit with costly delays, or worse, turned away.
3. Know, understand and follow the FDA requirements for your food product(s)
Easier said than done, right? Each food shipment entering the United States from abroad has particular requirements that must be met.
For specific questions about fruits and vegetables, the US Department of Agriculture keeps an updated list. You can find more information here.
Both imported and domestically-produced foods must meet the same legal requirements in the United States so it is a level playing field for importers and exporters.
5. Packaging: ensure all labeling requirements are done completely and correctly
According to the FDA, food items that are canned, packaged, baked goods, or seafood must be labeled with the appropriate information. This information includes but is not limited to: country of origin, nutrition information and ingredient information. Depending on the size of your product and product packaging, the FDA has issued multiple formats that are permissible for use for labeling.
In April of 2022, the FDA updated its nutrition labeling to reflect changing dietary recommendations from the US health authorities. Nutritional Packaging must show a myriad of considerations, including:
- Packaging & Food Contact Substances
- Irradiation of Food & Packaging
- Environmental Decisions
- Food from New Plant Varieties
- Food Made with Cultured Animal Cells
External Packaging Components:
- Statement of Identity
- Net Quantity of Contents
- Nutritional Facts Label
- Allergen Declaration
- Name And Address Of The Manufacturer, Packer, Or Distributor
What happens if your shipment is detained
If your shipment is held or denied for any reason or violation, the FDA does have a review process to follow your claim. You may be asked to provide a sample of your product to check for contamination or other issues. You will not be reimbursed for this if your paperwork or products are faulty/contaminated.
If you are unable to overcome the appearance of a violation, your product will be refused admission and you can work with the CBP and FDA to destroy the product or export it from the U.S within 90 days of the refusal.
Hopefully our tips and tricks for importing food into the US are helpful! If you still have questions and would like to speak directly with an A & A expert customs professional, we’re here to help, 24/7.