U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials met with their counterparts in Mexico recently, the second time since August 2021 that the two countries have met to work on food safety issues for imported foods.
Since 2014, the Produce Safety Partnership agreement between the two countries has covered fresh produce from Mexico. In September 2020, the FDA-SENASICA-Cofepris Food Safety Partnership (FSP) was formed between the FDA, Mexico’s National Service of Agro-Alimentary Public Health Safety and Quality (SENASICA), and Cofepris (Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks). The groups met virtually in August 2021 and again this August.
The FSP represents an expansion of food safety rules beyond the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule, covering all FDA-regulated food products.
“Our food supply is global, and no single country can achieve its food safety goals alone,” Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, said in a news release about the recent meeting. “Our shared goal is to proactively use modern technologies, tools and approaches to help protect the global food supply.”
This blog from ImEPIK will explore what the FSP means to Mexican exporters and, ultimately, U.S. importers, distributors and food processors who handle and use the food/ingredients in their operations.
Why a Food Safety Partnership with Mexico?
Mexico is the primary supplier of imported food to the U.S., according to the FDA, with one-third of U.S. imports of FDA-regulated food coming from there, including 60% of the fresh fruits and vegetables imported. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Agricultural Research Service, reported that half of food imports from Mexico to the U.S. in 2021 were agricultural imports, including fruits, vegetables, and processed produce, like juice and fresh-cut.
The recent FSP meeting in Mexico City highlighted “tangible progress” in the work groups established by the partnership:
- The Strategic Priorities Work Group is establishing and implementing information exchange and communication mechanisms between agencies on strategic issues identified through outbreaks and other for-cause events.
- Laboratory Collaboration Work Group is enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities, including sharing Mexico’s whole genome sequencing) data in the GenomeTrakr.
- The Outbreak Response Work Group is enhancing the effective and timely response for identifying outbreaks associated with human foods traded between both countries.
- The Food Safety Training Work Group is facilitating training and dissemination mechanisms on food safety issues of interest and agreed upon by the FSP to help improve compliance with applicable requirements and regulations, especially under the Produce Safety Rule, Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule, and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) Rule.
What progress has there been in the past year?
According to the FDA, the tangible progress from the working groups includes:
Strategic Priorities: FDA, SENASICA, and Cofepris collaborated on an outbreak of salmonella linked to Mexican onions. The FDA hosted technical meetings with Mexican onion growers and packers, and shared information on its Foreign Supplier Verification inspections. In addition, SENASICA and FDA worked with the papaya industry in Mexico on best practices and implementing supplemental FSVP training for suppliers.
Laboratory Collaboration: SENASICA and FDA reached a data sharing agreement to upload 100 sequences to the GenomeTrakr network, allowing both countries to identify and respond to outbreaks faster; SENASICA also uploaded historical salmonella isolates linked to the onion outbreak.
Outbreak Response: Finalized procedures allowing inspectors from both countries to conduct investigations on the same farm, and is working on a plan to enable all three agencies to investigate together.
Food Safety Training: Partnered with the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the University of Maryland to train more than 400 Mexican growers, including those who grow cilantro, avocados, and onions; the FDA and the two Mexican agencies also educated mango growers on updated food safety training.
What’s next in U.S.-Mexico food safety plans?
The FDA’s proposed Agricultural Water Rule, which will go into effect next year (the final version is due to arrive at the Federal Register in November), will be the topic of some FDA outreach. However, the agency plans to give growers a two-year compliance holiday while stakeholders acclimate to the new rule on when and how to irrigate and water treatment protocols.
The FDA and Mexican groups will continue working on a new model for conducting inspections involving participation by all three regulatory agencies where food safety is suspected.
ImEPIK training opportunities for trading partners
While the U.S. and Mexico are governed by different sets of laws relating to food safety, the FDA and other agencies have worked more closely with Mexican officials on establishing standards that exporters to the U.S. will need to meet.
ImEPIK has a Spanish-language training course that is identical to its comprehensive food safety training in English. The Spanish course is ideal for ensuring Mexico-based suppliers meet the necessary food safety conditions to export to the U.S.
The Spanish course is ideal for ensuring Mexico-based suppliers comply with the necessary food safety conditions to export to the U.S. – giving you peace of mind and confidence in your products.