Are foods safe?

FoodDefense, FoodSector, FoodDefensePlan | News | August 25, 2017

The attacks in the United States (11-S), resulted in a turning point in security in many sectors, one of them being food. However, this sector had already been the subject of previous attacks, for example, in 1900 there was a contamination in beer served in more than 100 breweries in England which caused 70 victims and around 6,000 people affected or when in 1978 a group of terrorists injected mercury into a shipment of oranges that reached the Port of Rotterdam from Israel.

These intentional attacks may have several objectives, some with a political background such as the one in Oregon (USA) in 1984, when two members of a sect contaminated with salmonella salads used in restaurants to alter the outcome of local elections and provoked that more than 700 people became ill. Other attacks, on the other hand, seek to disrupt international trade, such as that in 1989 in Philadelphia, USA, when low levels of cyanide were found in grapes from Chile which caused 2 million boxes of fruit removed.

In Spain, the most well-known case, unfortunately, occurred in 1981 when a low-cost industrial oil, rapeseed oil, imported from France was marketed through itinerant traders as olive oil and killed 600 people.

Who can carry it out and where can the attack take place?

The attacks may come from both external attacks and internal company personnel, as it was the case at St. Paul Medical Center in 1996 when an employee who had access to a toxic bacterium (Shigella dysenteriae) contaminated cakes that she offered to her colleagues, or when in 2003 a disgruntled employee contaminated with insecticide beef affecting 36 people in the United States.

The attack on the food sector can occur throughout the food chain, from growing areas or livestock breeding plants, processing plants, distribution of raw materials and products, storage facilities, points of sale, in short, until the product reaches the consumer’s table.

Food Security vs Food Defense

The food sector is an easy target because it encompasses many facilities, many of which are scattered and distant, and most of them have low security both in their facilities and in the staff, being therefore a very vulnerable sector.

As food is a basic need of the population, an attack on the sector can lead to a high impact, resulting in illness and even death, disruption of supply, destruction of a brand or product, interruption of trade (national or international), the reduction of consumption, which finally translates into significant economic losses.

But the concepts of food security and food defense should not be confused, the first focuses on accidental contamination while the second on intentional contamination, although it is sometimes difficult to establish the line separating one from another.

The concept of Food Defense began to acquire relevance from the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, which led to the subsequent approval in 2002 of the Law on Public Safety, Preparation and Response against Bioterrorism, which entered into force in December 2003. It has no international or unique definition, but in the United States of America, organisms such as USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) define it as those activities associated with protecting the national food supply against intentional or deliberate acts of contamination by biological, chemical, physical or radioactive agents.

The Bioterrorism Law has been modified, resulting in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, which has been completed by seven regulations approved between 2015 and 2016 and which for most food processors will enter into force in September 2017.

In Spain only 10% of companies in the food sector are certified by various voluntary standards, such as BRC, IFS, ISO 220000 or FSSCC 22000, which ensure compliance with food safety requirements. In addition, United States occupies the sixth place in the ranking of Spanish exports and, therefore, the Spanish companies that export to that country will be obliged to comply with the FSMA Law.

Some of these standards, such as IFS or BRC, already establish Food Defense measures, such as the ones in the following figure, and which result in the implementation of a Food Defense Plan.

What is a Food Defense Plan?

The Food Defense Plan aims to minimize the risk of intentional contamination of food in an establishment, therefore uncontrolled access to production or storage areas is not permitted, as well as not to carry out continuous monitoring in the load of the product for its transport.

In order to develop the Plan, it will be necessary to first analyse the initial situation of security of the installations, the hazards, to evaluate the risks to identify critical areas and vulnerabilities. Secondly, a plan of security measures will be designed in the enclosure, the plant and the process to control unauthorized access, access points, verify sabotage of products, control of loading and unloading areas, provision of surveillance for outsiders as subcontractors and visitors. These technological measures, customized in each client will be implemented taking care of the production process. And finally, to integrate everything in a process of continuous improvement (PDCA) will be necessary that all the installed systems are managed and supervised to guarantee the security in the installation and the production process.

The Food Sector is also critical

Food defense in Spain should not only focus on exporting companies to the US market. The Food Sector is one of the twelve sectors included in Law 8/2011 on Critical Infrastructure Protection.

Currently, the National Critical Infrastructure Protection Center (CNPIC) is drafting the Sectorial Strategic Plan for the Food Sector, which will allow to know which operators and infrastructures will be critical in this sector, and for that reason are indispensable and have no alternative and whose attack or destruction would have a serious impact on the essential service they provide.

Operators should establish an Operator Safety Plan (PSO) and Specific Protection Plans (PPE) for each critical infrastructure. Both documents will be closely linked to the Food Defense Plans since they have a common goal …. Reduce the risks of intentional contamination.

Mª José Mateo del Horno
Security Consultant