New U.S. food safety rules to require 'preventative controls' from exporters

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New U.S. food safety rules to require 'preventative controls' from exporters

"As these foreign supplier rules roll out, people will come to discover they’re not in compliance. That becomes a pretty big problem for the industry."

This is the message from Mike Bentel, an expert in food safety who is focused on bringing U.S. and overseas fruit and vegetable traders up to speed on the implications of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which will apply to all companies with revenues above US$1 million as of August 31 this year.

In conversation with, Bentel said under the new system for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) checks of overseas operations, not only will the importer of record have to foot the bill if an investigation takes place but officials may also ask to speak with a particular individual on-site.

In the case where an exporter does not own 50% or more of what they ship - in other words, they source product - the FDA will ask to speak with the company's 'preventative control qualified individual' (PCQI), certified as such by an FDA-approved training program.

If this individual does not exist, the exporter may as well say 'goodbye' to the U.S. market.

"How you’re discovered if you’re out is another situation. There isn’t going to be a check and balance of validation in this until there is a check and balance if the FDA visits your location.

Mike Bentel

Mike Bentel

"Let's say you're a food safety manager for a produce exporter in Santiago, Chile. You need to write a preventative control plan and you have to have gone through this training which can only be administered by a preventative control lead instructor or the equivalent," Bentel says.

"There are about 300 people who are preventative control lead instructors – you are interviewed, put under a certain amount of screening, and then you are allowed to participate in the training as a trainer."

Bentel is one of those 300, and will be setting up a series of training sessions in South America over this Southern Hemisphere winter, allowing people to gain the necessary qualifications.

The move forms part of a more proactive approach from U.S. authorities to food safety, and also taking less cost burden from taxpayers and passing it on to the industry.

Preventative controls come in a variety of forms, including screening companies that provide raw materials, undertaking biological testing, and applying products such as chlorine to prevent contamination.

"After the preventative control rules for human food, you have the produce safety rule," he says.

"It has two aspects to it - one is the field operation. If you produce cucumbers where you’re using canal water or surface water, when you spray that water on your plant you have a responsibility to make sure you haven’t contaminated the plant any further than what nature would do.

"So farmers and people who pack product on the farm side itself follow through produce rule, and folks who pack for other people - since they don’t own the product - fall under the preventative control rules."

The second part is the importer rule, whereby importers have the responsibility to understand the food safety practices of the people they do business with.

"If Mike Bentel is chosen as the importer of record to import cucumbers from Mexico and market them from the United States, I am responsible for the expenses that the FDA incurs at about US$300 an hour for an investigation anywhere that they chose to go," he says.

"This only happens in the result of an investigation. The small guy will end up probably going out of business as a result of this, and since importing produce isn’t exactly a high capital business you’ll probably have some guys who disappear into the night, as we say.

"You have this paradox of all these different players coming in here, and the folks that really want to protect their brand will probably have to do a little bit more."


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