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US updates import requirements for tomatoes, gluten-free products

August 14, 2014

Costa Rican exporters take note: Beginning this month, new regulations issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will apply for the entry into that country of tomatoes and gluten-free products.

As of Aug. 20, all tomato shipments arriving in the United States must comply with new requirements to prevent the spread of a plague known as the tomato moth (Tuta absoluta), or the tomato leafminer.

The moth affects tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and other vegetable crops, according to Costa Rica’s Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG).

Among the most important regulations, the FDA will require all tomatoes shipped to the U.S. to be packed without any traces of leaves, stems or other plant parts.

“Shipments also must comply with current international standards or be treated with methyl bromide before packing,” said Gina Monteverde, director of MAG’s State Phytosanitary Service.

The U.S. agency also eliminated the possibility of shipping tomato samples, as new rules only allow the entry of commercial shipments.

On Aug. 5, the FDA also issued new standards for the entry of gluten-free products, Costa Rica’s Foreign Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER) reported.

As of that date a product only can be labeled or advertised as “gluten-free” if it contains a maximum of 0.002 percent of that substance. The rule also holds foods labeled “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to the same standard.

Products must not contain any wheat, barley or hybrids, or be derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten.

The rule in the U.S. was welcomed by people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threatening illness if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereals, pastas and many other foods.

Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA’s food labeling and standards department, said “this standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products. People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled ‘gluten-free’ meet a clear standard established and enforced by the FDA.”

The U.S. currently is the main destination of Costa Rican exports. That country in 2013 bought 38.7 percent of Tico exports, which represent $4.4 billion, according to PROCOMER. Food  products sent to the U.S. accounted for 15.2 percent of total exports from that sector.

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