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Food Importation Basics

Avocados from Mexico, pasta from Italy, lamb from New Zealand, yummy! Imported candy, foreign condiments, and snacks — the average American has developed a truly international palette for imported food. Improvements in the cold chain have led to kitchens being stocked year-round with foods that our great grandparents would never dream of seeing in the local supermarket.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how all those food items end up on your table? Are they safe to use? If you are first-time food importers, where do you begin? Today I will just brief you the very basics, if you have a specific product inquiry, you shall consult your custom broker.

U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

FDA is responsible for the oversight of a good variety of goods entered into the United States that is related to people and animal's health and safety. In general, below is the list of FDA's regulatory scope

  • Human and animal drugs

  • Biologies

  • Cosmetic

  • Medical Device

  • Drugs

  • Radiation Emitting Products

  • Tobacco

  • Veterinary Drug

  • Foods

Addictives and color

Ceramicware and food contact substances

Dietary Supplementary

Animal Food

Natural State Food

Processed food

Some food might even need USDA agency regulatory, ex: cheese and milk dairy products

So next time if you see one case egg markets themselves " FDA approved" but another case not, don't think one is better than the other because both egg importers need to get FDA approved in order to ship the egg products into the United States. :)

Food Import Customs Clearance Process

I help an importer who brings the extract virgin olive oil from Italy to New York. So I will use this as an example so it can get to my points clearer.

First, I will need to obtain and review the relevant government forms, commercial invoices, and certifications, packing list. Things I would look for like,

  • Who is the manufacture?

  • Who is the seller? Sometimes, the seller is not manufactured. Seller might purchase from another firm. To track down the product grower or manufacture is crucially important to determine the country of origin.

  • What is the Manufacture's FDA number? Importers can register with the FDA on their website.

  • DUNS number (Dun & Bradstreet D‑U‑N‑S® Number.) Importers can register with the D&B DUNS number at Its a number that is recognized as the universal standard to track businesses worldwide, especially needed for FDA regulated products

  • What is the product and what does the packaging look like? This is important when I construct FDA product code. At the time the invoice was present to me, it only says " olive oil". So I will have to get on the phone to ask him " is it refined pure olive oil without other ingredients? Was it packed into the glassware or plastic or metal or something else? etc." sometimes I will check on the manufacture website to get some basic information. So if you are importer, try to put a detailed description as you can in the invoice.

  • Quantity and value

  • What is the US HTSUS code? Yet you may consult the broker's professional advice to justify the appropriate HTSUS code for your product and applicable duty rate but it is ultimately importer's " Reasonable Care" to determine the product code. so I help this importer's to determine his product shall be classified under Importers can be classified under 1059.10.2050 with his consent.

  • What is the country of origin? Again, this is based on where it was manufactured not where is the seller/ distributor based.

Second, I will get the bond coverage of his food importation. This is his first-time importation and he never obtains a yearly bond and he would like to get a single bond for this one-time consumption entry. With FDA entry, it was required bond coverage needs to be 3 times of merchandise value plus applicable duty and fees. That means you would pay more money to get a single bond for your first time FDA entry versus non-FDA entry.

Third, an FSVP (Foreign Supplier Verification) letter is needed from the importer. The FSVP letter is to have written confirmation from an importer that they need to take full responsibility to ensure the product meets U.S safety standards. If found food is not safe or misbranded by the FDA, importers shall accept the monetary penalty.

Forth, since this is first-time importation, the FDA put the "documents review " request to the entry. I would provide necessary entry documents to the FDA through FDA’s ITACS system . Luckily, it does not escalate to further intensive examination. The shipment was custom cleared and FDA released ( we called " FDA May Proceed)

FDA Import Alerts

FDA would regularly update " Import Alerts" on their website. Import alerts inform the FDA's field staff and the public that the agency has enough evidence to allow for Detention Without Physical Examination (DWPE) of products that appear to violate of the FDA's laws and regulations. It is strongly recommended all food importers check the FDA website " IMPORT ALERTS" section first before you initiate purchasing order. DWPE allows the agency to detain a product without physically examining it at the time of entry. Importers have no choice but to pay the fees to destroy or re-export the food!

Check Import Alerts here at

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