According to a recent Food and Drug Administration report, FDA regulators inspected less than two percent of the food shipments that were imported to the U.S. in the 2012 fiscal year.
FDA inspectors are responsible for all domestic and imported food except meat, poultry and eggs, which fall under U.S. Department of Agriculture purview.
Though the report found 1.9 percent of the imported food products were physically inspected, the percentage of domestic food facilities that were inspected was about 14 percent.
“If you’re buying things domestically produced, generally there’s a higher percentage that’s inspected,” said Londa Nwadike, a food safety educator for the University of Missouri and Kansas State University. “And if you’re buying something at a larger scale grocery store chain or a grocery store that has a good reputation for quality, they probably have their own check in place to make sure it’s safe.”
Importers are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe, too, as well as sanitary, wholesome and labeled, according to the FDA report. (Read more on labeling rules that just went into effect for imported meat here.)
“I don’t think consumers have to be necessarily extremely concerned. But it’s something that they can think about and make choices accordingly,” Nwadike said.
An estimated 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 50 percent of fresh fruits, 20 percent of fresh vegetables and 80 percent of seafood, according to the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Margaret Hamburg.
The FDA said in its report that all imports are being electronically screened, which helps inspectors determine the shipments that pose the greatest risk and therefore should be physically examined to prevent food-borne illness outbreaks. Higher risk imported products on the FDA’s radar include raw produce, seafood and spices.
“A lot of Americans love imported coffee, imported cheeses, imported raspberries in the winter, so we do eat a lot of imported foods and it’s something to consider when you’re purchasing things,” Nwadike said. “Obviously, there’s a number of things that go into making your food choices but that’s something to think about.”
Since President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law in January of 2011, the FDA has been required to submit annual reports to Congress with information about the safety of the U.S. food supply.