FDA Denies Fruits and Vegetable Entry Most Often

Apr 01, 2016 06:05 AM EDT | By Mark Jason Alcala

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HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 21: Cubans shop for fruits and vegetables in the historic Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Although diplomatic relations have started to normalize between Cuba and the United States, a trade embargo still stands and prevents most Americans from buying Cuban products.
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Food items from other countries need to be inspected by the FDA before allowed entry to the U.S. market. This is to ensure that the products are safe, sanitary and labeled appropriately under U.S. requirements and in compliance with provisions in the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Of course not all food items trying to enter the U.S. get the green light. However, a trend was noted with some food groups more susceptible to FDA refusals than others.

Apparently, fruits and vegetable tops the list of food items most frequently denied entry by the FDA during the period 2005 to 2013 according to a Food Safety News article by Coral Beach. The group is followed by fishery and seafood products while spices, salts and flavorings rank at third.

In terms of their country of origin, food items from Mexico, India and China topped the list of countries with highest number of import refusals for the same period according to the same Food Safety News article. The data was obtained from a new report made by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The FDA uses a risk-based formula in deciding whether to inspect shipments of not, according to an article in The Packer by Tom Karst. Incorporated into the formula are firms and products that have a heightened scrutiny recommendation due to previous problems. According to the report, 16,682 of the 87,552 incoming shipments during the period 2005-2013 had an Import Alert. That would translate to a substantial 19.1 percent goods that needs heightened screening.

So what are the FDA's reasons in rejecting entry of fruits and vegetables? The most common reason for fruits to be refused entry was "filth" while the most common reason for vegetables is unacceptable pesticide residues. Other concerns for fruits and its products are pathogen and toxins (7%) and chemical adulterations (26%). Pathogen or toxins also caused some vegetables to be denied (3%) while chemical adulteration accounts for 32 percent of rejections.

Another trend observed by the report is that there is a declining refusal percentage. For example during the previous period of 1998-2004, the FDA denied entry 32.3 percent of total fruit and vegetable shipments. This figure is reduced to 26.6 percent of total fruit and vegetable shipments refusals for the following period 2005-2013.

 One way to interpret this decline as an improvement in compliance with U.S. laws among importers. However, it could also reflect the FDA's limited capability in terms of resources and capacity to inspect and refuse imported food items, according to John Bovay who authored the report. The FDA can only inspect 1% of incoming goods due to its limited resources.

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