Supply Chain Security

It may be safe to assume that operators know how to keep food secure after they receive it. But what about before it gets to you?

The foodservice business is built on a supply chain that begins in the field and extends to processors, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and ultimately, the operator. The security of the food supply can be compromised at any of the connecting links, which means operators must get their own houses in order and check up on suppliers to be sure they are doing what they should.

The first and most obvious step for foodservice operators, according to Lisa Berger, MPH, CFSP, president of Berger Food Safety Consulting in Boston, is simply to ask purveyors to disclose their policies and procedures for food security. She recommends looking at factors such as whether or not the building itself is secured with an alarm system and perimeter fencing, how employees are screened to gain access to the facility and whether delivery trucks are sealed and not reopened until they arrive at an operator’s loading dock.

Ask the experts: Craig Phillips, vice president of purchasing for Metz and Associates, Ltd., in Dallas, Penn., regularly visits suppliers’ facilities, but he doesn’t recommend that most foodservice operators conduct these inspections themselves since they often don’t have the necessary background to do a comprehensive job. 

What he recommends instead is that operators find out which agency is regularly inspecting that facility and check with the agency for feedback. “There are a lot of these type of agencies that do inspections,” he notes. “It’s the first thing I would want to see, and some assurances that they received a passing grade.”

Fresh produce is a particularly murky area when it comes to food safety and security, says Phillips. “There are many, many small companies up and down the street that have less than proper procedures in regard to keeping food quality high and safe,” he asserts. “I look for a highly professional company, which may cost a little more, that is run cleanly and keeps my product safe.”

Self inspections: “As far as I know there is no accrediting organization at this point like there is in terms of food safety and HACCP,” adds Berger. In her home state, however, the Massachusetts Division of Food and Drugs Food Protection Program offers a food security planning self-inspection checklist for, among others, food processors and distributors.

“The possibility of deliberate biological attacks on the food supply is becoming our new reality,” the division notes.

In these times of terrorist threats, it is evident that our nation’s food supply is a vulnerable area that we must look at more closely.”

The division offers detailed guidelines for food production facilities and distributors. For example, it suggests that a facility should use only approved sources for all ingredients, packaging and labels, and that access to outside wells, potable water and ice-making equipment be secured.

When it comes to finish product, says the Massachusetts division, suppliers should maintain an inventory, have a written recall procedure in place and appoint an employee or a team to conduct trace-back and product verification.

Good practices: Common sense should prevail in all cases, says Wayne Bryant, program administrator North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. His department inspects and provides certification for food production facilities and distributors that meet USDA’s criteria. The USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Matrix delves into several areas including procedures that employees and visitors should follow at food production sites and procedures for securing the facility.

Facility officials “need to make sure that anybody going in and out of the plant signs in, that people can’t just wander in,” says Bryant. Also, according to the USDA, facilities should offer food security training to all employees; employees should know exactly who to contact should a security problem arise; and visitors should be required to show identification, be prohibited from packing and storage areas without an employee and should be able to verify the purpose of the visit before being allowed in.

USDA’s suggested procedures for actually securing the facility include limiting computer access to specific personnel, conducting background checks on all employees, performing security checks for signs of tampering and criminal action, and segregating imported products from domestic ones. 

Getting it wrong? However, International food security consultant Ray Pettit, president of Ray Pettit Enterprises in Milton, WA, suggests that the foodservice industry take a different approach to food security and take a closer look at accepted practices that may not be as effective as those who employ them expect them to be.

Security for food companies “is not an extension of, or an outgrowth of, food safety,” notes Pettit. The idea that food security is an off-shoot of food safety concerns is a “critical misunderstanding that has been perpetuated by food safety officials and directors…(and) institutionalized across all levels of government, trade associations, the trade media, and across the food industry itself.”

Pettit believes that this has led to widespread industry acceptance of security measures that often don’t provide sufficient protection to warrant their implementation.

Some of the measures include:

  • Conducting criminal background checks on new employees. “Terrorists,” Pettit notes, “would never put forward as a candidate for employment someone who has a criminal conviction.”
  • Restricting employees to only work in assigned areas. “Other employees, such as maintenance workers, have access throughout the facility. They are just as likely, if not more likely, to be involved in internal attacks,” Pettit says.
  • Using security surveillance cameras in an attempt to prevent attacks. Cameras “primarily aid in post-incident investigations,” he says, “and only then if the technology involved is sufficient to make a positive identification of a person ‘caught’ on camera.”
  • Training employees in the company’s food security program. He cautions that a disgruntled employee is far more likely than a terrorist to contaminate food at any food company or at any link in the food chain, therefore it would be extremely unwise to “train” employees in the delicate and sensitive aspects of the company’s security program.

What Pettit calls the “greatest folly in our current national bio-terrorism protection strategy” is the open
and public discussion of the food industry’s vulnerability. Terrorists “know how to use ‘open sources’ of information to benefit their intelligence gathering and attack planning strategies,” he says.