As a freight forwarder we receive many booking requests for food shipments from all over the world into the USA almost every day. If you are interested in importing food into the USA first of all you need to understand requirements and restrictions associated with the process. Importing food is a more complicated process than importing other products due to the fact that these commodities are related to public health and safety directly.

Food imported into the US must meet the same regulations as food produced in the USA. It must be safe and contain no prohibited ingredients. Also the labeling and packaging is really important. At MTS Logistics we provide customs brokerage services to our customers and we always suggest that they pay attention to packaging and labeling on their products. All packaging and labeling must be informative and truthful. Expiration day is also important in addition to that, you need to make sure all information provided is in English on the label and on the package.  Incorrect packaging is one of the reasons that your container can be flagged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for examination.

There are many authorities and departments in the United States regarding food products such as USDA, plant Health Inspection Service, Food and Safety Inspection Service, FDA which you need to contact when you are thinking of importing food products into the U.S. Especially Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has an important role in the shipment and customs release process. All commercial food products are subject to prior notice filing with FDA. Foreign manufacturers (shippers) and / or importers of food products must register with FDA. There are a few exceptions such as farms and restaurants do not have to register with FDA. You can register with FDA and get FDA number free from their online web site. (http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/foodfacilityregistration/default.htm) CBP will not release the shipment without proof that FDA has been filed for that specific shipment. As an importer you need to make sure both FDA registration number for manufacturer and importer must be on the commercial invoice.

Below are the paperwork and documentation needed for US Customs and FDA clearance.

  • Commercial invoice
  • packing list
  • ingredient list
  • FDA registration number (11 digit number)
  • Full manufacturer information that includes company name and full address.

In addition to that, as an importer please make sure that commercial invoice and packing list accompanying the shipment provide the full description of the commodity and how it is packed ( bottles, tins, cans , drums, etc) and also keep in mind that  you need to provide detailed information regarding quantity/amount ( liters, lbs, grams etc) , packed in oil or water. Customs brokers and/ or import specialist need to know the above mentioned details regarding food products to formulate the FDA code.

CBP hold containers for customs examination for many reasons. Especially food products flagged by CBP for exam so often. Common exam types are MET (full strip), AQI, NII and USDA for food products. Also, importer’s shipment history affect importers future shipments. Knowing what is admissible is just part of the story. The other part is knowing how to import. Depending upon what you are importing and its value, the procedures can be very complicated.