FSIS Import Procedures for Meat, Poultry & Egg Products
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible
for ensuring that domestic and imported meat, poultry, and egg
products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. Foreign
countries that export meat, poultry, and egg products to the
United States are required to establish and maintain inspection
systems that are equivalent to those of the United States. FSIS
audits foreign inspection systems and reinspects meat and poultry
at the port-of-entry to ensure that foreign countries have maintained
equivalent inspection systems.
FSIS makes two types of equivalence determinations:
- determinations of initial equivalence (termed "eligibility") for countries
that are not yet trading partners, and
- determinations of whether equivalence is being maintained by countries that are
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Foreign countries undergo a stringent review process before
they become eligible to export meat, poultry, or egg products
to the United States. Countries are not required to adopt an
identical inspection system, rather they must have an equivalent
one. The evaluation of a country's inspection system to determine
eligibility involves two steps: a document review and an on-site
The document review is an evaluation of the country's laws,
regulations, and other written information, focusing on five
- sanitation controls,
- animal disease controls,
- slaughter and processing controls,
- residue controls, and
- enforcement controls.
If the document review process shows the country's system to
be equivalent, a technical team will visit the country to evaluate
the five risk areas as well as other aspects of the inspection
system including plant facilities and equipment, laboratories,
training programs, and in-plant inspection operations. These
on-site audits are used to verify that countries have implemented
inspection programs properly, and if not, resolve differences
and clarify requirements.
If FSIS deems the inspection system to be equivalent to the
U.S. system, a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register
announcing the determination and the intent of FSIS to list
the country as eligible to export meat, poultry, or egg products
to the United States. After consideration of public comments,
a final decision is made on country eligibility and, if favorable,
a final rule is issued. That foreign countrys inspection
system is then responsible for certifying individual exporting
establishments to FSIS and for providing annual re-certification
documentation. FSIS regularly conducts on-site audits of the
eligible foreign inspection systems to ensure they remain equivalent
to the U.S. system.
Occasionally, some circumstances could result in the suspension
of eligibility and an interruption of trade. One example is
if an emergency sanitary measure is implemented by FSIS to address
a hazard that is so severe that no product can enter the marketplace
from a foreign establishment until the control is in place.
A second situation could be if an exporting country does not
provide satisfactory documentation of an equivalent sanitary
measure. A third example could be if a system audit reveals
that an exporting country is not implementing a public health
sanitary measure in the manner that FSIS initially determined
to be equivalent.
Permanent withdrawal of eligibility, like initial approval of
eligibility, can only be accomplished by rulemaking. FSIS may,
however, take action to ensure that products from a particular
country are not admitted into the United States if they are
adulterated or misbranded based on specific findings during
on-site audits, because of port-of-entry reinspection failures,
or other means.
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Foreign inspection certificates are required to accompany all
imported meat, poultry, and egg products. These certificates
must indicate the product name, establishment number, country
of origin, name and address of the manufacturer or distributor,
quantity and weight of contents, list of ingredients, species
of animals it was derived from, and identification marks. The
certificate must also bear the official seal of the foreign
government agency responsible for the inspection along with
the signature of an agency official. This certificate must be
in both English and the language of the foreign country.
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U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Importers of any merchandise into the United States must file
an entry form with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within five working
days after the shipment arrives at a U.S. port-of-entry. For
meat and poultry shipments, FSIS requires that two additional
documents — the original certificate from the country-of-origin
indicating the product was inspected and passed by the country's
inspection service and is eligible for export to the United
States, and an import inspection application and report. CBP
also requires the importer to post a bond, usually
an amount to cover the value of the shipment plus duties and
fees. Meat and poultry shipments remain under bond and subject
to recall by CBP until FSIS notifies them of
the results of the reinspection.
An entry form is not required for shipments of egg products
and shell eggs intended for breaking but an import request form
must be submitted for approval before these products can be
exported to the United States.
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Reinspection at Port-of-Entry
Upon arrival at a U.S. port-of-entry, all meat and poultry shipments
must be reinspected by an FSIS import inspector before they
are allowed into this country. Every lot of product is given
a visual inspection for appearance and condition, and checked
for certification and label compliance. In addition, the Automated
Import Information System (AIIS) assigns various other types
of inspection including product examinations and microbial and
chemical laboratory analysis. Egg products are reinspected at
the facility where they are taken for further processing. About
65 FSIS inspectors carry out reinspection at approximately 150
official import establishments.
Shipments that pass reinspection are allowed to enter U.S. commerce
and are treated as domestic product. Shipments from all countries
except Canada are stamped with the official USDA mark of inspection.
Canadian shipments carry the Canadian mark of inspection and
an export stamp. If a shipment does not meet U.S. requirements,
the containers are stamped "U.S. Refused Entry," and within
45 days must be exported, destroyed, or converted to animal
food, if an appropriate request for diversion is approved by
For imported egg products, the first 10 shipments from each
foreign plant is tested at the destination facility to establish
a history of compliance. This rate is reduced to a random selection
of one in eight production lots as long as the product continues
to be in compliance. Each production lot is subject to an organoleptic
inspection, as well as the evaluation of labeling.
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Residue & Microbial Testing
In order to export to the United States, a foreign country must
have a residue control program with standards equivalent to
U.S. standards. Statutes require that foreign residue control
- random sampling of animals at slaughter,
- the use of approved sampling and analytical methods,
- testing of appropriate target tissues for specific compounds, and
- testing for compounds identified by the USDA or the country-of-origin as potential contaminants.
FSIS randomly samples meat, poultry, and egg products for violative
chemical residues under the National Residue Program. The compounds
included in the import residue plan reflect the testing done
in the U.S. domestic residue program. FSIS can initiate a special
sampling plan when there is a need to monitor a country for
residues of a specific compound, based on detection of violative
residues at U.S. port-of-entry or other information concerning
risk to human health. Decisions about product acceptability
are based on U.S. tolerances or action levels.
Microbial testing is also conducted on imported meat and poultry
products. The microbial testing plan for imported products,
like that for residues, is modeled after the microbial testing
plan for domestic products. Assignment for sampling product
lots is generated through the AIIS. Different products are tested
for different pathogens:
- Ready-to-eat meat and poultry products are subject to
testing for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella
at a random rate.
- Dried and semi-dried fermented sausages are randomly sampled
for E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes,
Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin and Salmonella.
- Raw ground beef and raw ground beef components are randomly
sampled for E. coli O157:H7.
Random samples from each production lot of imported, pasteurized
egg products are tested for Salmonella. In addition, pasteurized,
liquid egg products in small, intact containers (up to 5 pounds),
that bear a shelf life claim may also be tested for Listeria
monocytogenes. Unpasteurized egg products are subject to random
testing for the presence of residues only. Additional testing
could be initiated if a public health problem is identified.
If a residue or microbial violation occurs in meat, poultry
or egg products, the frequency of inspection is increased for
all shipments of similar product from the violative foreign
establishment until a record of compliance is re-established.
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Inspection of Product Labels
FSIS import inspectors check labels on both shipping containers
and retail-size packages. Labels on retail packages of meat
or poultry shipped to the United States must meet U.S. labeling
requirements. Product labels must be in English and must include:
- product name;
- foreign establishment number and country-of-origin shown
directly under the product name;
- name and address of the manufacturer or distributor;
- net quantity of contents in pounds and ounces or liquid
- list of ingredients; and
- if applicable, safe handling instructions and nutrition
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In fiscal year 2008, FSIS inspected 3.3 billion pounds of imported
meat and poultry from 29 countries, most of which was fresh
and processed meat; only a small amount of poultry was imported.
This represented less than 10 percent of the domestic meat supply.
During fiscal year 2008, a total of 21.7 million pounds of
egg products were imported from Canada, the only country that
exports egg products to the United States.
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May 1, 2009
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