2022 Nut & Agricultural Products Report

Travis Walvoord
Sunrise Commodities

With most foods being low-margin items, the ongoing supply chain issues created by the pandemic hit the food industry hard and continue to do so. Supply chains were immediately impacted when lockdowns and illness forced many suppliers to suspend operations. Once production restarted, the logistics nightmares kicked in. Would product get on ships? If so, at what cost? When the shipped arrived, how long would it be stuck in the harbor waiting to be unloaded? When it was unloaded, could we even get it? Again, at what cost?

Higher-margin items can withstand that sort of pressure somewhat easier that low-margin items such as food but we were all in a no-win situation. Communication became even more important than ever before. With much of this unchartered territory, it was crucial suppliers, importers, U.S. customers and those involved in the logistics of moving product communicated often and with transparency. That was always a best practice; today it’s a necessity.

Clear, timely communication about delays, unexpected costs, etc. may not make the news sound any better but it puts everyone involved in a better position to make adjustments and keep their customers informed.

That highlighted importance of communication in this area is similar to the enhanced communication needed regarding food safety. To meet their Foreign Supplier Verification Programs regulation requirements, U.S. importers need more information from their suppliers than ever before. Simply put, importers need to be able to demonstrate on a per-shipment basis that the food they’re importing meets U.S. food safety regulations. That means importers need the food safety plans, testing results, audit information and anything else related to the safety of food being produced in each facility from which they imports.

That created some issues early on (the regulations have been in place for 5+ years now). Some longtime suppliers to the U.S. were insulted when importers who’d been buying from them for years without any hint of food safety issues began asking for this detailed information. But that’s the whole idea behind the Food Safety Modernization Act – (continue to) prevent problems rather than reacting to them.

To do that, an importer needs to demonstrate to FDA that it knows exactly what’s going on in the facility that produced the food. That likely means, for example, asking what other ingredients are used in the facility. That sometimes raises questions, so communication is important. When an importer requests that information, it should be made known to the supplier that importers must ensure no allergens are present in the facility and the only way to do that is to know what ingredients are used. If an ingredient is or contains an allergen, the importer must make certain the facility’s preventive control plan includes measures taken to avoid allergen cross contact. If no allergens are present, that’s a risk that doesn’t need to be monitored, which makes things a little easier.

Monitoring is a key word because the importer is required to monitor what’s going on in the facility so it can demonstrate to FDA, if asked, that the food meets U.S. food safety standards. That requires importers to have documentation that shows the food safety procedures outlined in the facility’s food safety plan are indeed being carried out.

FDA’s FSVP inspections are related to specific entries and typically happen at least two months after the entry is made. So, if I make an entry today, FDA might contact me in two months to request records to prove the entry was safe. That means I need to have overall food safety records from that facility plus records that demonstrate the food related to that entry is safe. That’s why importers need to request records on an ongoing basis – so they have them in hand when FDA arrives. This is all new because of the FSVP regulation, so communication is still needed to make sure everyone understands what’s required.

Attention to food safety is even more important now, given the supply chain issues. With all the other delays that we can’t control, we need to take the steps necessary to comply with the regulations and ensure our food is safe so we don’t add any new issues we’ll have to deal with.

It’s been a pleasure to serve as Nut & Ag Section chairman for the past two years. My second term is expiring, so my time as chairman finishes shortly. Serving as chair provided me the opportunity to be more involved in the association, better understand how the association helps all of us and put me in a better position to provide input on industry issues. I’m going to continue to take advantage of the opportunity we all have to provide that input and I hope those reading this do so as well.

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • afius.org • info@afius.org