At the 2016 Food Safety Consortium, food safety and quality assurance professionals and regulatory officials summited in Schaumberg, Illinois in early December for panel discussions, individual presentations, roundtables, workshops, and training programs to address a variety of food safety challenges. Laura Dunn Nelson, Kristin Kastrup, and Haley Riscen attended and exhibited for Alchemy and returned with three key takeaways from meeting sessions.
FBI offers food defense support to the industry
Special Agent Scott Mahloch of the FBI’s Chicago office spoke on industry vulnerabilities regarding food defense. The FBI offers educational and outreach opportunities for the industry through workshops, speaking engagements, and other public forums to educate companies on warning signs and what to do if intentional adulteration of food or food products is suspected. Informing the industry about potential targets including food manufacturing facilities, food storage and distribution operations, retail establishments, restaurants, commercial venues such as stadiums and ballparks, and cruise ships has become a Bureau priority.
Mahloch emphasized that the threat is real. Food safety came under the auspices of the Bureau’s Weapons of Mass Destruction office right after September 11, 2001. Following the 9/11 attacks, intelligence sources intercepted communications regarding potential terrorist targets in the U.S. food and water supplies. The FBI began looking closely at potential attackers, including foreign and domestic terrorists, people with an axe to grind, disgruntled employees or former employees, or those acting in the manner of terrorists with or without actual terrorist ties. The consequences of a successful food industry attack could include illness, death, and widespread market and even general economic destruction.
The FBI focuses on three areas of food defense – chemical, biological, and nuclear/radiological.
The Bureau’s food defense teams provide threat assessments and work closely with other agencies to investigate incidents to determine whether they rise to the level of terrorism. Food safety professionals can learn more by downloading the document Commercial Facilities: Food Defense Awareness and Outreach at www.FBI.gov.
Specific steps for fighting food fraud
Wendy Maduff, VP of Food Safety and Quality at the Wonderful Company, Jorge Hernandez, Chief Food Safety Officer at Wholesome International, and Darin Detwiler, Director of Food Regulatory Affairs at Boston’s Northeastern University, led a panel discussion offering specific recommendations for companies in the escalating fight against food fraud. They placed their recommendations in context by discussing recent high-profile incidents of food fraud (fake eggs, fake rice) that set consumer and industry alarm bells ringing. Anti-food fraud suggestions included:
- Verifying suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers; understanding precisely where all ingredients come from
- Documenting and verifying standards for all incoming ingredients; auditing these processes frequently
- Educating all buyers and procurement employees about food safety
- Taking extreme caution regarding raw materials brokers
- Knowing the origins of food and being transparently honest with consumers in advertising
- Continuing to educate consumers about labels like “cage free” or “free range”
Using train-the-trainer to build training capacity
A representative of the Arizona Department of Agriculture shared a model food safety training approach to address challenges in training a workforce in a non-traditional classroom environment. The department developed its own training content and targeted it primarily at local agricultural operations.
The important point for the industry at large was the emphasis on using a train-the-trainer approach to scale the program, a technique that can enhance almost any training program—regardless of the source of the specific training content—to deliver instruction across multiple locations within an enterprise. Train-the-trainer helps companies extend limited resources by building a pool of competent learning delivery specialists who can then operate on virtually any schedule, with multiple presentations of the same content to different groups occurring at the same time. This ensures the timeliness of training and minimizes employee time off the floor or out of the fields. Train the trainer is particularly effective when coupled with learning systems featuring automated delivery and recordkeeping functions, as it essentially defeats the limitations of time and space.