Protecting food still a concern for processors, expert says
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Food safety rules recently proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not include provisions for preventing intentional contamination that manufacturers had been expecting.
Regulations dealing with the threat of intentional contamination have been "pulled out" from the recent proposal and will likely be subject to separate rule-making in 2014, said Lance Reeve, food defense director for the AIB International research firm.
Even so, it's not too early for food producers and processors to begin thinking about intentional hazards posed by terrorists, criminals, protesters or disgruntled employees, he said.
Reeve offered some tips during the annual conference of the Northwest Food Processors Association:
* Be more vigilant about checking the identification of visitors to your facility. Companies should have an employee check identification and sign visitors in and out of the building, rather than letting visitors do so themselves. Generally, firms are diligent in finding out who has entered the building but not whether the person has left.
"Ninety percent of the visitors must be really dedicated because they're still there. They haven't signed out," Reeve said.
Drivers who are responsible for outgoing product should also have their identification verified. Food and beverages are the top items stolen during shipping, he said.
* If an inspector from the FDA shows up, ask to see a badge and a notice of inspection. This precaution is important because there have been reports of people impersonating FDA personnel to gain access to information.
* Don't share your FDA registration number. This number can be used by counterfeiters to sneak their products into the country. Suppliers who ask for this information will generally be satisfied with a written assurance that you have an updated registration number.
* Inform employees that intentional adulteration of food is more than an offense that will cause them to be fired -- it's a crime that can result in lengthy prison time.
* Establish a food defense team that is led by an employee with experience in security, meets regularly and includes representatives from a wide range of departments within the company -- including human resources, quality control, line workers and legal counsel.
* Rank potential threats to your food product based on probability and the severity of the hazard. Train yourself and employees to look critically at operations to identify potential vulnerabilities to tampering.
"Think like a criminal here," said Reeve.
* Involve your employees in monitoring the facility for unknown people or unusual activities. Unlike cameras, employees can respond to a threat in real time. Conduct "penetration testing" to see how easily an unannounced visitor can access the facility before being challenged by workers.
"I want your people to be an active part of your security program," Reeve said.