As President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law Jan. 4, 2011, it represented the first major overhaul of federal food laws since 1938, when Congress empowered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to oversee the safety of most foods, along with drugs and cosmetics. With FSMA’s advent, security — already a vital component in protecting America’s food chain — will likely play an even larger role.
The food industry needs to prepare for this brave new world, suggests Mark Powers, the regional security and emergency manager for MillerCoors. Powers is also a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Food and Agriculture Sector Coordinating Council, so he has a foot planted in both the private and government sectors. “With the January signing of the FSMA, almost overnight the FDA was transformed,” Powers explained at a recent ADT Media Summit in Chicago. “(The FDA) couldn’t recall tainted products. If (they) wanted to subpoena your records, they had to go to the Department of Justice and convince some U.S. attorney. Now, the FDA can do it by themselves.”
The FDA’s enhanced powers under FSMA will mean more frequent inspections at FDA-registered food processing sites, the right to inspect foreign plants that process food products imported to the United States, more stringent documentation requirements for food companies and stronger product-recall authority.
That last category should especially catch the attention of food industry decision-makers, Powers said. He estimates that the average product recall cost to a corporation will exceed a million dollars. The negative publicity accompanying a recall can do serious damage to a brand and set up the company for large losses in claims against it.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 48 million Americans — about one in six — get sick from food-borne diseases each year. Nearly 128,000 are hospitalized, and roughly 3,000 die. The new law gives the FDA new enforcement powers to protect public health against food contamination that is, for the most part, considered preventable.
A Vast Challenge
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, government officials and business security specialists have also had to consider another potential contamination source: terrorists who clandestinely insert themselves into the food chain with intent to do harm. However, according to Don Hsieh, ADT Security Services director of food defense, it is far more likely that someone legitimately on the premises will contaminate the food supply, intentionally or unintentionally.
At the ADT Media Summit, Hsieh pointed out that there are two million farms in the United States — 150,000 domestic processing facilities registered with the FDA and another 270,000 in foreign countries. Most food products are moved by trucks, about nine million of which are used for transport in the industry. Trains move truckloads of food products on rail cars, and ocean vessels bring in imported food from all over the world. Restaurants, grocery stores and institutional food-service companies represent more than a million points of sale. Clearly, the supply chain’s vastness presents a formidable challenge for those trying to protect it.
In industry terminology, “food defense” refers to protecting against the intentional adulteration of food. “Food safety” encompasses the unintentional adulteration of food, usually via microbiological pathogens that might be seeping into it. The term “food protection” covers both of those. “Food security,” which sometimes comes up in industry discussions, refers to providing enough food for the world’s population.
Three Trends Driving Food Defense
Hsieh sees three key trends that are driving food defense. The first is the beefed-up regulatory oversight represented by FSMA, which was itself spawned by the increasing threat of food contamination from within and outside the supply chain, plus the growth of the global supply chain.