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Making Food Defense Part of the Security Plan

[Photos by Shutterstock]
[Photos by Shutterstock]

Imagine a college football game kicking off in the Midwest at 11 a.m. local time. Tens of thousands of fans are counting on stadium concessions for their lunchtime sustenance. Now imagine that food has been intentionally tampered with, and patrons are ingesting an unknown chemical agent. It will be several hours before the first symptoms of illness begin. By the time a connection can be drawn to stadium food service, thousands will have become ill. It may take several days, or even weeks, to pinpoint the source of the contamination.

Commercial facilities such as stadiums, arenas, amusement parks, etc. typically have food service operations. Events held at large stadiums and other sports venues represent an ideal soft target, offering many points at which food could be intentionally contaminated. Such an incident could have a significant public health and economic impact.

To address vulnerabilities for possible intentional contamination of food, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that food service vendors develop and implement a food defense plan. A food defense plan helps an establishment prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to and recover from an intentional adulteration incident.

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Food Safety vs. Food Defense

The protection of food products from intentional contamination or adulteration intended to cause public health harm or economic disruption is known as food defense.

Conversely, food safety refers to protecting food from unintentional contamination.


The primary components of a food defense plan address outside security, inside security, personnel security and incident response security measures. When developing a food defense plan, establishments should also ensure that suppliers and transporters have food defense plans. It is important to consider the roles, responsibilities and resources of public health, law enforcement and emergency management agencies. One excellent tool for developing a plan is the online Food Defense Plan Builder, originally designed for food processors, available at

The food system within the United States continues to increase in complexity, diversity and reliance upon interconnected domestic and global systems. Likewise, the threat landscape continues to evolve.

The food supply is a "soft target" because the supply chain cannot be readily defended solely by traditional security measures (i.e., guards and gates). Not only is the food industry large and geographically dispersed, but it also comprises many different types and scales of operations across the country.

Attacks could be directed at any point from farm to table, such as:

• Crops and livestock production and processing
• Distribution, storage and transportation
• Retail establishments such as restaurants, supermarkets and food service operations

Intentional adulteration has the ability to cause significant public health consequences, widespread public fear, devastating economic impacts, loss of public confidence in the safety of food and effectiveness of government and disruption of trade.

While there is no known imminent threat to the food or commercial facility sectors, they remain vulnerable to attack and we must remain vigilant. Media sources indicate that the current concerns are lone offenders, small-scale attacks and insider threats.

Providing training to employees and managers on how to recognize suspicious activity and how to report it is important to identify and reduce risks. Conducting food defense exercises is a good way to test the effectiveness of your food defense plan. FDA developed the Food Related Emergency Exercise Bundle (FREE-B) exercise toolkit, a compilation of scenarios based on both intentional and unintentional food contamination events. FSIS has a similar online tool for food companies called the Food Defense and Recall Preparedness: A Scenario-based Exercise Tool. As part of the "See Something, Say Something" campaign, a flyer was developed for the food service industry listing what to look for and what you can do to reduce the risk for intentional contamination in your venue.

Commercial facilities and the food and agriculture sectors have been identified as critical infrastructures that must be protected. Addressing food defense in this interdependent food system requires the development of stakeholder partnerships among these sectors, public health and emergency management agencies, and the law enforcement community. Therefore, it is essential to bring together appropriate stakeholders to:

• Ensure an understanding of agency roles in food defense
• Increase the understanding of roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder in food defense prevention and response, emphasizing early engagement
• Promote communication and coordination among stakeholders for response to an incident
• Engage industry stakeholders to implement best practices for food defense
• Integrate planned response activities


FDA and USDA-FSIS have developed numerous tools and resources for food establishments and transporters on food defense and developing a food defense plan which can be accessed at: or

For questions regarding food defense and the CFFDI contact:

A program developed to assist commercial facilities and their food service vendors is the Commercial Facilities Food Defense Initiative (CFFDI). This FBI-led initiative was developed in collaboration with FSIS, the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security. The primary focus of the CFFDI is on response planning, while highlighting awareness of food defense and the importance of developing food defense plans. It is formatted as a half-day workshop that includes an unclassified threat briefing and a facilitated scenario-based discussion.

This initiative is intended to assist all commercial facilities that host large-scale events in mitigating vulnerabilities to an intentional food contamination incident involving the use of chemical, biological or radiological agents, and enhance coordination of response and investigative procedures. Implementation of food defense best practices in the commercial facilities sector will help minimize the likelihood and reduce the impact of such an event.

Implementing a food defense program aids in protecting the U.S. food supply from dynamic and evolving threats. Everyone eats; therefore, everyone is a possible target.

Marianne Elbertson is the acting director, Food Defense Assessment Staff, for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Office of Data Integration and Food Protection.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Gameday Security with the title "Making food defense part of the security plan"

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