Food Safety Alone is No Longer Sufficient to Protect Our Food Supplies

Center for the Global Food Value Chain Blog

People are used to hearing about food being taken off the shelves because of foodbourne illness. We understand these outbreaks aren’t going away. “Food safety” efforts are intended to address unintentional product contamination.

But, what if the food is contaminated on purpose? How do we protect people from intentional attacks on the food system?

In 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia reported that an estimated 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases1. If you had to add an intentional food contamination incident to these statistics, you’d likely see an exponential increase in the numbers. We need more than food safety to protect consumers. We also need "food defense", and I’ll tell you why.

Food defense addresses the intentional adulteration of food products. Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), companies are required to develop effective food safety and food defense plans2. If your company is looking for opportunities to improve food safety and defense, look throughout your whole supply chain, not just at local operations. Develop food defense assessments and training. And, reassess each facility by testing a mock crisis scenario or event.

If your company is part of the global food and beverage industry and hasn’t considered food defense as part of its risk mitigation plan, it probably should. Here are the top ten questions to consider when planning your food defense program:

  • What’s your role in managing or implementing facility security and/or food defense?
  • How do your facilities engage the local state fusion centers3?
  • Do you have an incident command structure? How do you test it? What have been the results?
  • Do the facilities use a suspicious activity report to address the "unusual" and if so how are they managed?
  • Does anyone from your management engage with the Department of Homeland Security Food Ag Sector Coordinating Council4, if not why not?
  • What are the biggest areas of vulnerability when you think of the risk of using food as a weapon/contamination?
  • At a minimum, what security do you think each facility should have to protect your product from being used as a weapon/contamination?
  • How have breaches in your food defense been discovered in the past?
  • Describe your company’s level of background checks for production employees, drivers, etc.?
  • Does your company use eVerify5 and if so what have been the benefits?

Food safety and food defense are critical areas because adulterated food doesn’t just affect the health of your customers, it affects the health of your company, your reputation, and your brand.

Joel Radford
Manager, Food Safety
Deloitte & Touche LLP


2U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, Title I – General Food Provisions, Section 106 – Protection against Intentional Adulteration
3A fusion center is an information sharing center, many of which were jointly created between 2003 and 2007 under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice. They are designed to promote information sharing at the federal level between agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. military, and state – and local-level government.
5E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. Exists to strengthen the Form I-9 employment eligibility verification process that all employers must follow by law.