FDA: 98 Percent Of U.S. Food Imports Are Not Inspected

Chances are that some of the items in your grocery cart have been shipped in from overseas. In fact, 17 percent of food eaten in the U.S. is made in other countries. What you may not know, though, is that the FDA has admitted that 98 percent or more of the food that comes through the U.S. borders is not physically inspected by the FDA's 2,000 food inspectors. And of the food that is inspected yearly, about 3,500 products are refused entrance due to contamination by insect and rodent droppings, pesticides, drug residue, or traces of salmonella. The FDA only inspects produce and fish; meat and poultry are inspected by the USDA, which is required to inspect all meat and poultry products that come through U.S. borders.

"The tremendous volume of imports makes it impossible to physically examine every product entering the country. Instead, we use a targeted, risk-based approach," said David Elder, regional operations director of the FDA, in a recent interview. "We work to inspect the right imports — those that may pose a significant public health threat — and take additional preventative actions such as issuing import alerts... Although we don't physically inspect every product, we electronically examine 100 percent of imported food products before they reach our borders."

FDA specialists frequently rely on their own five senses to determine if an imported food item passes muster. In a News 21 investigative report, FDA specialists explain that while inspecting seafood products, "stale or fishy odors" are still acceptable, while fecal odors will not pass inspection.

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi