Importing food is in many ways different compared to general consumer goods, mainly due to regulations in the destination markets. In this product guide, we explain what you must know about importing Agricultural & Food products from suppliers in Asia, including requirements on food production facilities, laboratory testing and food packaging. We also explain what American, European and Australian importers must know about licensing, and inspections.
Approved Food Production Facilities & Quality Management System
A Quality Management System (QMS) is applied to prevent quality issues, by ensuring continuous testing, verification and separation throughout the production process. A QMS can be applied to virtually any type of industry, but QMS certification is rarely required by law. Instead, regulations mostly apply to the specific product, rather than the factory.
However, importing food and agricultural products is different. Importers based in the European Union may only purchase food and agricultural products from an “Approved Establishment”. These lists can be found on this page, and are divided by country and type, as follows:
- Section II: Meat from poultry and lagomorphs (23/03/2015)
- Section VI: Meat products (23/03/2015)
- Section VIII: Fishery products (23/03/2015)
- Section X: Eggs and egg products (23/03/2015)
- Section XIII: Treated stomachs, bladders and intestines: casing only (23/03/2015)
The date on the right indicates the latest change, i.e. suppliers being added or removed from the list. EU based companies importing the food products listed above may only make purchases from a listed manufacturer – buying from a Non-Approved Establishment, i.e., a company that is not on the list, is illegal and will not make it through customs. Thus, the first step is not to go straight to Alibaba.com, but to first shortlist Approved Establishments of the specific product, and then engage in further negotiations.
In the United States, the FDA administers food regulations, including imports and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) requirements for both domestic and foreign food production facilities.
Worth noting is that QMS or facility pre-approval is not required for all types of food and agricultural products. However, importers must still verify compliance with all applicable food safety regulations for their produce. Excessive amounts of pesticides, certain organisms and chemicals can render a batch of products illegal to import and distribute. As it’s always the importer’s responsibility to ensure compliance, batch samples must be collected and submitted to a food testing laboratory, such Asia Food Inspection, before shipment.
While export focused food manufacturers in China tend to maintain higher standards than their domestically oriented counterparts, the ability to comply cannot be taken for granted. Previous compliance (e.g. test reports valid in the destination market) must be obtained and verified before an order is placed.
Packaging & Labelling Requirements
Importers are required to ensure that the goods is properly labelled. The specific requirements differ between markets. However, the following requirements are common:
- Names of Food
- Net Quantity
- Ingredient List
- Nutrition Labelling
- Serving Instructions
- Country of Origin
- Graphical Marks
Food contact materials, i.e. food packaging, also fall within the scope of regulations, and may not contain excessive amounts of restricted substances. Below follows a table with information on food packaging labelling and material regulations in the United States, European Union, Australia and New Zealand:
Import Licenses & Permits
Obtaining an import license is rarely required in developed markets. However, importing food and agricultural products is, as explained in this article, a very different topic. In the European Union and Australia, businesses importing food products may need to obtain an import license or a permit to clear the cargo through customs. However, no such requirement exists in the United States, as highlighted on fda.gov:
Under provisions of the U.S. law contained in the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, importers of food products intended for introduction into U.S. interstate commerce are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to U.S. requirements. (All imported food is considered to be interstate commerce.)
FDA is not authorized under the law to approve, certify, license, or otherwise sanction individual food importers, products, labels, or shipments. Importers can import foods into the United States without prior sanction by FDA, as long as the facilities that produce, store, or otherwise handle the products are registered with FDA, and prior notice of incoming shipments is provided to FDA.