Monday, October 10, 2011


In to day's world no country is 100% self reliant as far as food is concerned which necessitates imports from where ever available. These imported foods are supposed to conform to the standards of quality and safety imposed by the importing countries and when rejected the consignments are either destroyed or sent back. If a country is large like the US the logistics of import inspection and assessment can be quite daunting. While random sampling or picking samples based on statistical analysis is common, the US has adopted a model for picking up samples for detailed assessment called PREDICT. Here are some of the features of the system

Which shipments get inspected is increasingly determined by a new computer system called PREDICT, or Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting, that is now used at 70 percent of U.S. import operations at land, sea and air ports. It analyzes information such as a manufacturer's history with the agency, lab test results and even current weather patterns, assigning a risk-based score to each shipment to direct investigators toward the riskiest ones. After a shipment is flagged, it's up to a person to investigate further. Investigators give top priority to the items with the highest scores and work their way down — at least, to the point they can with limited staff. This summer, the FDA gave News21 unusual behind-the-scenes access at its largest operating district to show the ways in which front-line operations attempt to keep unsafe food from reaching American supermarket shelves and dinner tables. Sensory tests- "The Nose" prepares to sniff his way down a mahi-mahi fillet. Steve Angold works out of a narrow lab at the FDA's new $40 million testing facility in Irvine, Calif. He is one of about 25 FDA specialists across the country who rely on their senses of sight, touch, taste and smell to detect decomposition or filth in food products.

What is surprising is that human intervention is still necessary in spotting "bad" shipments and confirmation arrives after laboratory analyses. Imagine the logistical nightmare involved in clearing 24 million shipments annually and though actual testing takes place with less than 2% of the consignments arriving at various ports, the system seems to be working satisfactorily. Critics point out that this proportion is too small and there is potential danger in future if the testing regime is not expanded. Fact still remains that almost all food related poisoning episodes occurring in that country originated from within its own boundaries, not from foreign shipments. One has to appreciate that besides the facilities abroad, from where foods are imported, are inspected frequently by the US officials and those not coming up to the standard are blacklisted on a regular basis. Added to this, all food exporting countries have their own food safety monitoring system ensuring that there is double safety as far as imported foods are concerned.


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