Last week FDA announced the extension of the application period for importers that want to participate in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program for FY 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in travel restrictions and advisories that have hampered efforts by accredited Certification Bodies (CBs) to both conduct the onsite regulatory audits and issue certifications to foreign entities, which are required by the VQIP application.
The application portal will stay open until July 31.
VQIP is a voluntary fee-based program that was established under FSMA. Approved applicants are granted an expedited review and import of human and animal foods into the United States if they prove they are achieving and maintaining a high level of control over their supply chains from a safety and security standpoint. Eligibility criteria includes ensuring facilities of foreign suppliers are certified by a CB that has been accredited via FDA’s Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.
About 15% of the U.S. food supply is imported. And within that figure nearly 80% of seafood, 50% of fresh fruit, and 20% of vegetables come from outside the United States, according to FDA. Under FSMA, the commitment to ensuring the safety of imported foods is a high priority. FDA is releasing a proposed rule, and a companion draft guidance document, to aid foreign entities in proving that they are meeting food safety import requirements.
The proposed rule, “User Fee Program to Provide for Accreditation of Third-Party Auditors/Certification Bodies to Conduct Food Safety Audits and to Issue Certifications”, is scheduled for publication Friday, July 24. FDA has named the following key groups that would be charged fees:
- Accreditation bodies (ABs) submitting applications or renewal applications for recognition in the third-party accreditation program
- Recognized ABs and accredited CBs that are participating in the third-party accreditation program and subject to FDA monitoring
- Certification bodies (CBs) submitting applications or renewal applications for direct accreditation
In addition to naming those subject to the user fee, the proposed rule defines how the fees would be computed and collected, the agency’s public notification process, and what happens if those subject to the fee do not pay it (i.e., suspension of recognition).
In the draft guidance, “Third-Party Auditor/Certification Body Accreditation for Food Safety Audits: Model Accreditation Standards”, FDA makes recommendations on third-party auditor/certification body qualifications. If finalized, the document will remain a companion guidance to the final rule.