WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration announced new rules aimed at making food importers more accountable for food safety and establishing standards for third-party audits of foreign food producers.

The proposed Foreign Supplier Verification and Accredited Third Party Certification rules represent a fundamental shift in FDA oversight of imported foods — the new rules focus on preventing food-safety problems before they occur.

"We must work toward global solutions to food safety so that whether you serve your family food grown locally or imported you can be confident that it is safe," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

The proposed Foreign Supplier Verification rule would require importers to establish that their food manufacturing practices and procedures are consistent with US standards. Importers would be required to:

• identify hazards associated with each food;
• conduct or obtain documentation of verification activities, which could include onsite auditing, sampling and testing, to provide adequate assurances that the identified hazards are being controlled; and
• take appropriate corrective action if hazards are not being adequately controlled.

"We will continue to check food at our borders," said Michael Taylor deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. "However, rather than relying almost entirely on FDA's investigators at the ports to detect and respond to food safety problems, importers would — for the first time — be held accountable for verifying, in a manner transparent to FDA, that the food they import is safe."

The Accredited Third Party Audits and Certification rule establishes a system for the recognition of foreign government agencies or private companies that accredit third-party auditors of foreign food facilities.

The two proposed rules have been published in theFederal Registerwith a 120-day public-comment period.