You Should Know

August 2015 Issue

The Safety of Imported Foods

Have you ever been concerned about the safety of foods imported from other countries? If so, you are not alone. According to the 2012 International Food Information Council Food and Health Survey, about half of Americans feel that imported foods are less safe than those produced in the U.S.; of this group, 77 percent feel they lack regulation, 61 percent feel they are produced in less sanitary conditions, and 60 percent believe they could become contaminated during travel.

Photo: Thinkstock

The rise of imported food. As the U.S. population has risen, so has our importation of foods. According to the USDA, 17 percent of the total food consumed in the U.S. in 2012 came from imported sources. Yet the FDA inspects only two percent of all food imports. The inspections are conducted on a routine, priority, or emergency basis. However, all import entries are electronically screened, which helps inspectors determine which products pose the greatest risk and should be inspected.

Imported foods are attractive for a number of reasons. Importation enables fruits and vegetables to be available year round, and brings us special products that can’t be grown here, such as coffee and chocolate.

Risky business? The positive aspects of food imports tend to be overshadowed by the bad news often featured in headlines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed foodborne illnesses between 2005-2010 and linked 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses to foods imported from 15 different countries.

Fish imports were responsible for the greatest number of those outbreaks, which is no surprise considering 85 percent of seafood in the U.S. is imported. The second leading import linked to outbreaks was spices. About 45 percent of the imported foods that caused outbreaks were from Asian countries, where the food safety standards are not as strict as in the U.S.

The FDA rejected 109,151 shipments of imported foods between 2002-2013. The most common reasons for rejection included: the food appeared putrid; missing, confusing, or inaccurate label

information; undisclosed manufacturing processes, presence of salmonella, and unsafe additive or pesticide use.

Improving safety. President Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011 to place more pressure on food producers to provide safer products. But there is concern over its effectiveness, given that Congress has appropriated less than half the budget the FDA requires.

No matter where your food comes from, do your part to help ensure food safety:

- wash foods well before preparing them,

- store foods at appropriate temperatures (≤40 F for the refrigerator; ≤0 F for the freezer),

- cook foods properly.

Check out for more information about food safety.