FDA's third-party standards need clarity

Reforms are aimed at assuring quality and safety

FDA import specialists inspect imported paprika, curry and spices at a warehouse in Port Newark, New Jersey.United States The FDA is to accredit voluntary third-party certification programmes under a plan it believes could enable it to focus its resources where they are most needed.

The agency said the accreditation scheme, for both domestically produced and imported products, would not replace its own inspection programme. Instead, the initiative would be designed to ensure third-party schemes were independent and satisfied US food-safety requirements. Approved third-party certification could offer 'additional assurances of safety,' it added, and allow the FDA 'to better focus the use of our resources based on risk.'

The agency said it had been prompted to propose the accreditation scheme because so many companies were now insisting that their suppliers were subject to third-party inspection to ensure they met voluntary standards, such as Safe Quality Food, British Retail Consortium, International Food Standard and GlobalGAP.

Loren Israelsen, president of LDI Group consultancy and United Natural Products Association, based in Utah, said implementing this proposal would help ensure consumers were not misled by spurious claims.

FDA Commissioner Andrew C. Von Eschenbach, MD, unveils the food protection plan."Third-party certification is the most important issue for the industry in the coming year," he said. "There will be an explosion of products displaying some form of logo that claims to be a certifying symbol. Some are legitimate; some were created by a marketing department the week before."

In a consultation document, there was a request for more information about the schemes used for food and drink marketed in the US, and clarity about the auditing process to ensure suppliers met the requirements of those schemes. The FDA expressed numerous concerns about whether incentives existed that could encourage companies to take part in approved schemes. And it warned: "The FDA would need sufficient confidence in the quality of the audits performed and the validity of the decisions to certify by the third parties, as well as the independence of the third parties from the firms they certify, before we would consider recognising a third-party certification programme."

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