Safeguarding the Plate: Exploring the Importance of Food Defense in Ensuring a Secure Food Supply Chain

Safeguarding the Plate: Exploring the Importance of Food Defense in Ensuring a Secure Food Supply Chain

Safeguarding the Plate: Exploring the Importance of Food Defense in Ensuring a Secure Food Supply Chain banner

There are few things in life more important than readily available food. Easy and affordable access to adequate nutrition is important not just for manufacturers and food leaders, but also for consumers on an international level. As a result, food safety in the global food supply chain has taken on a more complex and vital role than ever before.

From recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks to warehouse incidents, today’s industry leaders need to know that their systems are being defended by an array of mitigation strategies, a long-term outlook of the challenges ahead, and a reputable food defense plan.

What Is Food Defense?

Food defense is a phrase that encompasses the prevention of intentional contamination or adulteration of food products. Responsibility for this food chain ultimately falls on a chain of individuals and businesses, all tied together by global systems and interconnectivity. A healthy food defense system is integral to public health.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the global food supply chain is shared through “collaborative, public-private partnerships within the industry.”

The United States took a major step forward in 2011 when President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to help transform the nation’s food safety systems.

Food safety covers unintentional contamination and adulteration of food products. The overarching protection is the combination of food safety practices to preserve the quality of food and food defense to protect food from intentional contamination. 

Potential Threats to the Food Supply Chain

All qualified businesses that report to the FDA must establish a food system and defense plan to ensure their preparedness in the face of potential threats to their supply chain.

As a result of the globalization of the food industry, it is vital to have a food defense system in place for mitigation and preparedness purposes.

Listed below are the most common potential threats and vulnerabilities as they exist within the food supply chain.

  • Natural Disasters and Weather Events – In 2004, the United States introduced the Defense of United States Agriculture and Food to initiate a national policy for defending the food chain and agriculture system from major disasters and weather events.
  • Pests and Diseases – Since the beginning of our time cultivating food, we’ve had to battle with nature to ensure its resilience. A food defense system protects against potential pests and diseases at every level of the supply chain.
  • Terrorism and Cyberattacks – Food terrorism has been present within the United States since the early 2000s. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States released a comprehensive threat of terrorist and cyberattack-related issues.
  • Economic Factors – A looming recession can put to bed even the hardest-charging of industries. A potential recession doesn’t just impact retailers and consumers – it also impacts the food chain. A lack of labor availability and slowing wage growth can both lead to a heightened attrition rate among employees.

Why Is a Food Defense System Needed?

What does an effective food defense program accomplish? Simply put, a food defense system is designed to protect food products from contamination, adulteration, or any intentional harm to the public.

The food system within North America has only increased in diversity and complexity over the years, joining the more extensive and interconnected global system that the internet has made so prevalent.

Organizations like the FSIS have introduced The Significant Incident Preparedness and Response Staff (SIPRS) to work closely with government agencies to develop and implement far-reaching strategies to protect the food supply.

Let’s take a closer look at the food defense system and how it can help to mitigate everything from cyberattacks and pests to intentional adulteration.

Aspects of a Food Defense System

As outlined above, food security is critical not just for manufacturers and consumers but for the overall safety of the global infrastructure. Without convenient access to safe food, major problems will begin to manifest and pile up.

To help mitigate potential issues with the global supply chain, the FDA has pushed the importance of developing solid food defense principles with a food defense system.

A food defense system will encompass several aspects, including:

  • Vulnerability Assessment – A vulnerability assessment will encompass potential threats both internationally and externally. Consider a disgruntled worker or a group illness as two concepts analyzed during a vulnerability assessment.
  • Prevention – Acting quickly is almost as effective as preventing the act entirely. The active management of a food defense plan must entail accurate and updated information to prevent issues from manifesting.
  • Detection – When preparing a food defense plan, facilities must gather key operational procedures, a detailed overview of the facility, and all procedures for training and screening employees.
  • Response – Integrating an action plan with a food defense system can lead to a quick and effective response. The FSIS suggests installing mitigation measures that empower employees to speak up if they see something problematic.

Importance of Physical Security Measures in Food Facilities

The Food Safety Modernization Act introduced by President Obama has seven fundamental rules that have been outlined and enacted to improve overall food safety compliance within the United States.

The goal of FSMA is to ensure companies control measures that prevent and minimize potential risks to employees and customers down the line. Physical security measures in food facilities work to mitigate and prevent:

  • Tampering – Any intentional modification of a product in a way that could lead to potential harm. Physical security measures can work to mitigate potential contamination by a disgruntled or manipulated employee.
  • Terrorism – Any contamination by foreign or domestic aggressors for the purposes of politics or ideology.
  • Contamination –  Contamination can result from employees failing to follow proper food safety procedures.

We can see a real-world example of the importance of physical security measures in food facilities by taking a closer look at Nestlé.

Real World Example

Nestlé is an industry leader within the food chain with decades of experience at the international level. Nestlé sets the tone by offering a deep look into their food safety plan and how it can help to prevent issues from manifesting.

Nestlé is an industry leader in food safety as they seek to prioritize:

  • Materials – Nestlé relies on quality raw materials with consistent quality checks.
  • Preparation – All manufacturing facilities under the Nestlé label are designed to meet and exceed the highest levels of quality and safety standards.
  • Processing – Recipes are scientifically formulated to deliver safe and adequate products from a nutritional perspective.
  • Packing and Transportation – Nestlé relies on proper transportation practices to ensure that all products reach their final destination in optimum condition.

Intersection of Food Defense and Technology

Technology has fundamentally changed the way that we live our lives. From the interconnected nature of social media to the convenience of online shopping, everything is seemingly available with the click of a button.

Food defense has taken a significant step forward with the continued guidance of technological progression. From major organizations like Nestlé down to the smallest suppliers, technology is alleviating some of our most serious food and safety concerns.

Let’s take a closer look at how technology is working overtime to revolutionize our food defense systems.

How Technology Is Revolutionizing Food Defense

Technology has transformed a great many industries, the food industry notwithstanding. In the realm of food defense and safety, suppliers and manufacturers have noticed a tangible step forward in several areas.

  • Farming Technology – From the very beginning of the chain, technology has taken a tangible step toward alleviating risks associated with the food chain. Farm tech allows for deeper insights into crops and soil conditions as well as potential pests.
  • Food Processing – Major advances in food processing have made it easier than ever for companies to integrate safer and better-quality food. Higher-temperature processing also allows food to preserve its nutritional value while eliminating harmful bacteria.
  • Food Packaging – Packaging has taken a major step forward in recent years as automated technology continues to take center stage. Food packaging advancements have led to a reduction in waste, lessening the overall impact on the environment.
  • Advanced Cleanliness – New technologies have even made it easy for the testing of potential contaminants in the workplace. Testing for and scrubbing away potential contaminants is a significant step forward for the health and vitality of the food system.

Global and National Entities Involved in Food Defense

  • FAO – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specializes in international efforts to improve nutrition and food security while reducing hunger.
  • WHO – The World Health Organization is an arm of the United Nations responsible for public health. The WHO is headquartered in Sweden with a host of offices around the world.
  • USDA – The U.S. Department of Agriculture comprises 29 agencies with a focus on federal laws pertaining to farming, food, forestry, and other economic developments.
  • CFIA – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency works to safeguard regulations pertaining to plants, foods, and animals throughout Canada.

How Can Regular Monitoring Mitigation Strategies Enhance Food Defense?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of repairs. A food safety plan put in place and properly practiced can work to mitigate potential threats, as we’ve alluded to above.

Regular mitigation strategies can also:

  • Identify gaps – Assessing broad-based controls will give individuals the opportunity to assess gaps in procedures, covering areas of need that may have gone unnoticed.
  • Take Corrective Actions – Regular mitigation efforts can reduce the time wasted between identifying an issue and acting upon it.

A food defense plan can be developed in conjunction with the appropriate professionals. With a constant focus on updating and monitoring mitigation strategies, industry leaders can ensure they are doing their utmost to reduce potential threats to their products.

Threat of Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA)

Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) is a term that refers to food fraud. More specifically, EMA occurs when a product is intentionally left out or modified in a way that changes its appearance or value.

As an example, the addition of cheaper oil to an expensive olive oil is only appropriate when the oil is identified as a mixture and not presented as a pure product. Food fraud is common and an issue that the FDA has to contend with frequently.

Future of Food Defense

With a rapidly growing infrastructure that is increasingly reliant upon global connectivity, the future of food defense has never been more critical or sharply in focus.

According to the FAO, there is plenty to be excited about as far as the future of food defense is concerned. The development of new food production systems and food sources as well as continued research into the human microbiome has given rise to a more thorough understanding of what we can expect in the future.

Of course, food protection safety and defense will have to navigate the turbulent waters of climate change, food fraud, economic recession, and the other risk factors we’ve covered.

Find a Career in Food Safety

Johnson & Wales University (JWU) offers today’s students access to the online food safety degree that they need to ensure a safer, healthier, and more fulfilling future for the food supply chain.

JWU offers a Master of Science in Food Safety alongside its MBA in Operations and Supply Chain Management. Focused on empowering today’s brightest minds, JWU provides students with a two-year track to completing their degree.

For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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