Report said further improvements possible for FDAs food imports assessment tool

Report said further improvements possible for FDA's food imports assessment tool

Several recommendations that would improve a computerised tool'used by the US Food and Drug Administration to assess the safety risk of food imported by the US have still to be fully implemented, according to a new report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO said the FDA's Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting, or Predict, tool provides vital support for the agency, which is responsible for oversight of more than 80% percent of the US food supply.

As the volume of imported food is so high, the FDA physically examines only about 1% of imported annually, the GAO said. To support the FDA, Predict was brought into service In 2011 "to improve FDA's targeting of imports for examination by estimating the risk of imported products", the GAO said.

However, of 24 recommendations developed by the FDA to improve Predict, following an evaluation of the tool in May 2013, the FDA has fully implemented only 15 of the recommendations because of a lack of resources, the GAO said. Six of the recommendations have been partially implemented and the remainder have not been implemented at all.

The GAO report has recommended the FDA document the process by which it is to identify, obtain, and use open source data and "establish a timeline for implementing the remaining recommendations".

"Establishing a timeline for implementing the remaining recommendations as resources become available would help ensure that Predict continues to remain an effective tool for screening imported food," the GAO said.

The FDA electronically screens all imported food shipments to determine which imports to physically examine at the border and which imports to allow into US commerce. The process comprises two phases. The first so-called prior notice screening is intended to protect against potential terrorist acts and other public health emergencies. The second phase, admissibility screening, is intended to ensure that the food is admissible under the US Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. 

The GAO said: "During the second phase, the FDA electronically screens entry lines using Predict to determine their level of risk. Risk - reflected by the Predict risk score - includes factors such as the inherent health risk of the product, compliance risk associated with firms, facility inspection results, and broker history, among others, and is then compared to all other entry lines within a specified commodity over the past 30 days."