WASHINGTON — Chances are that about 15 percent of the food you eat — more if your diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables and cheese — comes from abroad, and the government is taking steps now to make it safer.
New rules proposed Friday by the Food and Drug Administration would make U.S. food importers responsible for ensuring that their foreign suppliers are handling and processing food safely.
Imported fruit and cheese has been responsible for many recent outbreaks, including 153 recent Hepatitis A illnesses linked to a frozen berry mix sold at Costco last month as well as four deaths last year that were linked to listeria in Italian cheese. Imported fruits or vegetables are also the top suspect in an ongoing outbreak of cyclosporiasis, a gastrointestinal infection that has so far sickened 321 people in 13 states.
Other illnesses in the last several years have been linked to imported papayas, mangoes and nuts and spices used as ingredients.
The proposed rules, required by a sweeping food safety law passed by Congress in 2010, are meant to establish better checks on what long has been a scattershot effort to guard against unsafe food imported from more than 150 countries. Only around 2 percent of imported food is inspected by the government at ports and borders.
The guidelines would require U.S. food importers to verify that the foreign companies they are importing from are achieving the same levels of food safety required in this country.