Food Security: An Issue, An Opportunity
American Institute of Baking
Sept. 11, 2001, changed forever the way we lead our lives as Americans.
Potential threats to our security and the measures we must take to prevent them are a matter of constant concern. Such topics are constantly featured in every daily newspaper, nightly newscast or radio talk show.
Since security affects all of us in our daily lives, it must come as no surprise that executives in the food industry are actively participating in the dialogue. They have embraced the reality that the implementation of comprehensive food security programs in their businesses has become a new, but permanent, management responsibility and a key component of good stewardship of an organization.
What is food security? It is, in essence, about reducing the potential impact over time of events that will disrupt the food supply system in the marketplace. Unlike the more familiar food safety programs, which deal with eliminating or mitigating those processes and procedures that will have an unintentional negative impact, food security concerns itself with a broad array of intentional acts, from the relatively minor to the potentially catastrophic. If we consider the implementation of food safety procedures to be both remedial and pre-emptive, then food security programs, by contrast, are basically entirely pre-emptive.
The food industry has been moving ahead in identifying what risks are present in the supply chain, from the farmer’s fields to the consumer’s shopping cart, and what measures must be implemented to lower the potential for intentional contamination.
Why has security commanded the attention of the food industry, including those involved in baking and snacks, like no other event in recent history? It appears that three factors weigh heavily in this focus: security protection for the facility, government attention and customer demand.
Security protection for the facility has become necessary to protect four significant elements: people (employees, contractors, guests, etc.), the product, assets (buildings, equipment, vehicles, etc.) and the brand. Let’s examine these four elements in turn.
Workplace violence indicates why protection of people within the facility is a security concern. In its most extreme form, homicide is the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. There are about 2 million workplace assaults reported each year. Protection of the product, assets and the brand is highlighted in the form of tampering, theft, vandalism and tarnishing of a brand after a major security incident. It took only one false claim of a severed finger being found in food at a local restaurant to result in the loss of millions of dollars by a well-established national fast food chain.
The federal government has taken an activist role in promoting food security. More than 80 governmental agencies have been identified as having some form of connection to food security. Some very specific regulations have been enacted, such as the Bioterrorism Act. Numerous regulatory guidance documents already have been published. The government continues to lean heavily on the food industry to become proactive in their security efforts. A case in point would be the parting comments made by then-secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, who said on Dec. 3, 2004, “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do,” he said.
Customer demand has made security an element of doing business with other companies, specifically in the retail industry. In an effort to ensure the security of the products they are purchasing, customer supplier approval programs have incorporated security reviews and/or audits. Some of these are fact-finding missions while others are scored audits that allow the customer to compare suppliers.
Food security and food safety must co-exist at a facility to produce a safe product. Development and implementation of a security program is similar to Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) in many respects. A formal vulnerability assessment must be conducted of the facility to identify security risks, the facility must decide which risks it will address, and policies, programs and security measures must be put in place to mitigate those risks.
Like HACCP, an overall security program cannot function without the prerequisites of security being in place. As facilities develop security programs, they have found food safety and food security programs will overlap in some areas. A case in point would be receiving inspections. During these inspections, facility personnel should be examining the shipments for security issues, such as seals or evidence of tampering, and for food safety issues, such as pest evidence, temperature abuse or damaged ingredient bags.
To implement an effective security program at a facility, the company must be willing to commit time and resources. Management of the security program will require a trained/qualified person to oversee the day-to-day operation of the security program. It is most likely that capital expenditures will be required to improve the physical security measures on the property and within the facility.
Probably the most important and often overlooked resource is the employee. Employees must be trained to become fully conversant with the security policies and educated as to why security is important to the success of the business and their personal safety.
Whether a security program is to be developed and implemented for any, or all, specific company reasons, government mandates, and customer purposes, an organization must be dedicated in its approach and methodical in implementing food security measures.
A strongly increasing emphasis on food security, which is reflected by the surrounding legislative environment, has created the need for companies to seek highly specialized advice and support in developing necessary programs and procedures. This should be viewed positively and as an opportunity. By adopting such measures, a company will have an initial demonstrable advantage over its competitors. Over time, these measures will become part of standard best practice. But as ever, those who move the quickest and most decisively will obtain the greatest benefits.
The American Institute of Baking is a world leader in the growing field of delivering food safety and food security processes, procedures and related services, principally through supplying audits of food manufacturing, distribution and retailing operations and complementing these activities by providing supporting education of their employees worldwide. AIB is based in Manhattan, Kan. Visit us at www.aibonline.org or call 1-800-633-5137.