Overview of Food Defence
Food defence is about implementing controls to reduce the possibility of food supplies from being contaminated intentionally using any means of chemical, biological, radiological or physical. The term “food” would include both foods and beverage. As the production and distribution of foods involve people, the use of equipment, vehicles, and building structures to occur, food defence would also include the protection of these. As such, protective measures relating to personnel, product, physical and electronic security are key focus of managing food defence. Hoax or malicious rumours, thefts, food fraud and work place violence all need to be considered for food defence management as well.
Historically due to anthrax spores or other means of biological contamination, food defence is also known as bio-defence or bioterrorism. Food defence came into strong international focus after the 911 incident where 19 militants of the extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against World Trade twin towers and other areas in the United States. This was because attacks on the food chain would be an easier way to harm people on a massive scale without difficulties in gaining access and learning how to use weapons, bombs and flying aeroplanes and sacrificing the lives of the terrorists or aggressors.
Food safety is different from food defence because it focuses on unintentional contamination of foods from the 4 hazards of chemical, biological, radiological and physical. Unlike food defence, food safety focuses on the raw materials and products without considering protection for the people, buildings and other assets.
Key to food defence is the risk assessment which is also known as the threat vulnerability assessment or threat assessment. There are several means of conducting such an assessment such as CARVER + SHOCK, TEAM, ORM which is based on the probability of occurrence and severity or impact of occurrence.
Intentional contamination does not occur frequently and is often difficult to detect or trace. As such the 5 main management areas would comprise of awareness, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. These would lead to other programmes and security controls for chemicals, visitor entry, product recall, external contractor, uniform, employee locker, mail handling, label, training, etc.
A typical flow diagram similar to HACCP would be established to evaluate the risk at each step starting from receiving until delivery but risk evaluation would extend to beyond those stated on the flow diagram as the hazards are not limited to only processing. This is almost parallel when evaluating risks related to occupational safety and health of employees as well as environmental aspects.
Establishing, documenting, implementing and maintaining food defence measures would not totally eradicate the occurrence of food defence incidents but help to reduce the possibility of such occurrences due to the difficulties posed to the aggressor as well as mitigate the impact upon occurrence when systems have been set up for use. As such it would make good business sense for the any food supplier and distribution centre to adopt such measures. For those exporting to the USA, there is no option but to adopt these measures in line with the USA government legal requirements on the Bioterrorism Act 2002 and relevant parts of the Food Safety Modernization Act 2011. As food chain continues to extend globally, there is no doubt that food defence is here to stay as part of food protection together with food safety.