Food Defense

What does your food defense strategy entail? If your eyes just glazed over from this question, I dare to say you are not alone. Although it seems we have yet to develop a clear picture of what a food defense plan should look like, industry leaders are working together to figure it out.  

Tyco Integrated Security, a company specializing in electronic security products, installation and services, hosted the 6th Annual Food Defense Strategy Exchange (FDSE) last week in Chicago. The FDSE provides a platform for food and beverage security professionals, regulators and experts to focus exclusively on food defense issues.

Presenters included representatives from the FDA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Aon Insurance. This year’s key topics included implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), global food supply chain risks and the implementation of security best practices. 

Threats to the food supply can range from terrorist attacks, extreme genetic engineering and even an increase in population. FBI Agent Fred Stephens explains that food and water will become scarcer as the population grows, increasing the cost. The increase cost of food correlates with an increase in violence. Stephens also explains that extreme genetic engineering is also a threat. “How do we know what to look for if we can create life?” he asks. 

Proposed Rule

Representatives from the FDA opened up discussions on key aspects of the proposed rule on food defense. FDSE attendees want the FDA to offer standardized tools and training.

The purpose of the proposed rule on food defense is to protect food from intentional adulteration when the intent is to cause large-scale public harm. The most vulnerable activities for adulteration include: bulk liquid receiving and loading, liquid storage and handling, secondary ingredient handling and mixing similar activities. 

Jon Woody, food defense analyst with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says consistency in regulation has been the main concern among industry leaders. The FDA plans to develop metrics in regards to training, as well as guidance documents to help inspection staff apply regulations.

Attendees of FDSE think food defense should be separate from food safety. They also say, however, that the FDA should review the food safety requirements and carry over what works well.

Realizing Risk

So what do we make a plan to defend against and how much risk are we willing to take on? Implementing a defense strategy is still pretty new. For example, software tools are still in the works from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) that will securely show a company its vulnerabilities.

The supply chain can have a number of vulnerabilities because of its complexity and it’s worth protecting, says Col. Jon Hoffman, senior research fellow at NCFPD. “Understanding risk to the supply chain is critical to avoid disruption to a product,” he adds. “We need to look at all the areas it can be attacked.”

To help companies identify risks in their supply chain more effectively, the NCFPD is testing a new program it calls CRISTAL, criticality spatial analysis. The prototype allows users to build product line supply chains by inputting the locations of facilities and transportation links among those facilities. Users can select from a range of hazards, including weather to biological or chemical hazards that could be introduced into a product.

A systems-based approach involves consideration of risks and vulnerabilities throughout an entire food product supply chain, according to the NCFPD. CRISTAL is still being tested and the more software available will make it easier to develop food defense plans. CRISTAL is expected to be available next year. 


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