Americans are always looking for new foods to try, which is why importing food to the US is a great choice for your import-export business. Because Americans are accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods from all over the world, there is a huge demand for imported food products.
Of course, exporting food from the US to other countries is a viable option as well. American cuisine has a reputation for being safe, clean, and delicious. If you’re interested in building a business model around exporting food, you may be able to find just the right overseas market for your American food products.
Whether you’re importing or exporting food, you need to be aware of the various certificates and regulations that govern the import-export process. Due to its high food safety standards, importing to the US is particularly complicated. You will need to work with several government agencies in order to import food.
Here is a comprehensive list of the requirements you need to follow when importing food into the US. Certain products demand additional permits and other requirements, which are listed below. Exporting food from the US has an entirely different set of guidelines, which you can find at the bottom of this article.
If you don’t have time to sift through the extensive regulations surrounding importing or exporting food, reach out to BorderBuddy. We have the expertise and experience needed to help you navigate the customs process.
Regulations for importing food to the US
1. Submit a Prior Notice to the FDA
Whenever you’re importing food to the US, it is mandatory to file a Prior Notice electronically with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You need to submit your Prior Notice at least 2 hours before your goods arrive. Of course, it’s wise to complete it several days in advance. The consequences of not submitting your Prior Notice on time range from having your shipment delayed to paying costly fines.
Your Prior Notice should include the following information:
- The country of production
- The expected location, date, and time your shipment will arrive
- Details about the shipper, carrier, and method of transportation
- The FDA Product Code
If your goods are arriving by ocean freight, you will also need to file an Importer Security Filing (ISF) with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
2. Register all foreign facilities with the FDA
All of your foreign partners involved in the food importation process must be registered with the FDA. This includes all suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors of the food that will be imported. If you partner with a well-known facility, it may already be registered with the FDA.
Otherwise, you will be responsible for ensuring your foreign partners register with the FDA. Once you obtain proof of facility registration, make sure you include it with the other import documents in order to speed up the import process.
3. Create a label that complies with all labeling requirements
The need to create a label depends on if your food is packaged and ready for consumption. If it is, you’re responsible for attaching a proper label. For example, a bar of Swiss chocolate needs to have a label affixed to it that meets all FDA labeling requirements. In some cases, your foreign supplier may provide an FDA-compliant label.
Here is some of the information that needs to be included on your label:
- The country of origin of the food
- An English translation of all foreign language text on the item
- The name and address of the domestic distributor
4. Gather other essential documents
Aside from the requirements that apply specifically to importing food, you must fulfill all of the requirements surrounding importing to the US in general. This involves amassing several important documents that you’ll need to submit during the customs process. Remember, hiring a customs broker makes things easier by allowing your broker to gather and submit these documents on your behalf.
These are some of the documents you should prepare:
- Bill of Lading: a document created by the shipper that functions as a contract, tracker, and receipt of the shipment
- Commercial invoice: a document that includes various details about the shipment such as country of origin, date, value, and HTS code
- Packing list: a document that lists the quantity and dimensions of all products in the shipment
Entry summary: a CBP form that compiles most of the information from the above documents
Regardless of which kind of food you intend to import, there are several regulations you must follow. Consider this your checklist as you prepare to import food to the US.
Additional regulations for importing fruits and vegetables to the US
If you are importing fruits and vegetables, you’ll need to follow the above requirements along with obtaining an additional permit from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). You can apply for this permit using PPQ Form 587. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get approval before your goods ship.
Before you apply for this permit, it’s wise to check the Fruits and Vegetables Import Requirements (FAVIR) database to determine whether the type of food you want to import is allowed. Simply search for the type of fruit or vegetable along with its country of origin to confirm that it is an approved commodity.
Additional regulations for importing dairy products to the US
Aside from the normal regulations for importing food to the US, there are several other requirements you need to be aware of if you’re importing dairy products. Some dairy items, including milk, cream, half and half, heavy cream, and flavored milk, require a milk import permit from the FDA.
Importing dairy products from certain countries may require additional permits from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Because the importation of dairy products is particularly complicated, it’s best to hire a customs broker to assist you with the process.
Additional regulations for importing meat to the US
When importing meat, poultry, or eggs, you’ll need to follow the typical regulations for food as well as some extra requirements for these specific products. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates the importation of these foods.
It’s important to note that meat, poultry, and eggs can only be imported from certain countries. This is to ensure that these products meet the same standards as their domestic counterparts. Utilize this importer checklist from FSIS to help certify your meat imports.
Additional regulations for importing seafood to the US
In addition to the general requirements for importing food to the US, importing seafood involves following the FDA Imported Seafood Safety Program. You will also need to complete Form 3-177 from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
When your goods arrive in the US, CBP will review this form. You can expect FWS agents to inspect the imported seafood upon arrival.
Regulations for exporting food from the US
If you’re exporting food from the US, the exact requirements depend on the country you’re exporting to. Typically, the FDA can issue a food export certificate that ensures the quality of the food you are exporting. Other agencies may provide a food export certificate for certain foods such as dairy products, seafood, honey, eggs, and alcohol.
It’s your responsibility to find the specific requirements for importing to your target country. You can start by consulting the FDA’s Food Export Library, which includes information about some of the US’s trading partners. Otherwise, check the government websites of the country you’re exporting to.
Exporting food to Canada? Don’t miss this guide.
Importing food into the US is complicated, no doubt about it. Let us make it easier for you. At BorderBuddy, we take care of the details of the customs process so you don’t have to. What are you waiting for? Give us a call today.