By Lisa Lupo

Whether operating a major stadium, arena, or even military base, if food is being served, instituting a food defense plan is a critical security aspect.
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Whether spurred by the new Food Defense rule of FSMA or by increased terrorism around the world, food defense activity is extending not only up and down the supply chain but also outward to tertiary food operations that have security plans in place, but had not previously thought much about food defense.

It’s not surprising – with all the current news focus on incidents involving guns and explosives, with few, primarily local, incidents involving intentional food contamination. But, whether one is operating a major stadium, arena, or even military base, if food is being served to the people of the site, instituting a food defense plan is a critical security aspect.

This is particularly true if one considers the words of retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Bill Zinnikas, who spoke at the two-day Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) Food Defense Conference in late June. In the U.S., vulnerability is not about access, it’s about terrorism – spreading fear and panic, and pushing an agenda. “The more complex a system is, the more vulnerabilities it can have; and the food system is very complex,” he said. “Terrorist groups state their intentions to kill us. And once bombs and bullets no longer work, these will be rich targets.”

The concept was furthered by two additional conference speakers, for whom foodservice is simply one of their facilities’ many operations.

HOT DOGS AND CRACKER JACKS. The new 1.75-million-square-foot home of the Minnesota Vikings is expected to host more than 400 events each year including major national and international events, such as Super Bowl LII in 2018 and the 2019 NCAA Final Four scheduled for the stadium.

“Great guest service is great security,” said Director of Event Services Bill Langenstein. Thus, the stadium has numerous security checks and policies in place including 110 metal detectors through which everyone must enter, including all staff and players even on non-event days; a 100-foot perimeter approved by the Department of Homeland Security; security cameras; an incident tracking system; staff education; and pre- and post-shift drills.

To protect its guests, players, and staff, Langenstein said, “We play the ‘What if …’ factor: If we do this, what are the effects.” From these, they have developed contingency plans, with a primary focus on response and recovery.

DOD food defense includes multiple inspections throughout the system.
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But even with all this, Langenstein said, until he was invited to speak at the conference, he had not thought a lot about food defense. It is now, however, a key topic on the stadium’s radar and one for which it will be taking a proactive approach, including staff education. “The more training we can do, the more awareness they have, and the more prepared we will be.”

DEFENDING OUR DEFENDERS. While it may have taken some humility for Langenstein to admit to a roomful of food defense folks that this had not originally been a key focus of the newly opened stadium, he is, nonetheless, in good company, i.e., the military.

Department of Defense (DOD) Food Defense Training Programs Lead Ronald Jech works with FDA, USDA, the Department of Homeland Security, global partners, and local agencies to defend the DOD food supply from intentional contamination. The greatest challenge? “Getting the military people to understand its importance,” Jech said.

The food defense programs have been developed in conjunction with its existing distinct, but complementary, food safety programs, Jech said. One of these is the audit program, which has evolved to include food defense, but still faces challenges of the risk-based procedures being food-safety rather than defense focused. “We need to better integrate it to food protection,” he said.

Another area of integration is that of the installation support programs, which are being updated to look at areas which had not previously been considered, but will be beneficial for both intentional and unintentional contamination prevention. Additionally, every DOD facility has an anti-terrorism officer; however, like the concept expressed by Zinnikas, those personnel were focused on bombs and bullets – not food, he said.

Other areas of focus are special events – both on- and off-base, which have an array of risk potential. On base, vendors are frequently in and out very quickly with little accountability; the food sources and employees also can be questionable and background checks are not regularly conducted. Off-base events, especially those involving a high number of military personnel and those that are in high-risk areas, can present a large target of high visibility; again, with potentially questionable food sources and employees.

In locations outside the U.S., food and water risk assessments are conducted, particularly in high-risk areas. However, there is frequently limited logistical support and many unknowns. In such areas, Jech added, assuring food safety can be difficult enough; when it comes to food defense, “we’re not always their best friends in some countries.”

Even off-base grocery shopping by military members and their families can be questionable in some countries. In some such locations, he said, “When I look at food defense, I look at HACCP: Cook it really good. You can’t make it less nasty, but you can make it more safe.”

Even the people themselves can be a threat or asset, Jech added. They may be disgruntled, easily manipulated, or susceptible to blackmail or threats. On the other hand, they can be a significant asset as a knowledgeable set of eyes and ears. They know the system; know what is normal in the facility, products, and practices; and are vested in the outcome. Thus, the mantra is “See something, say something.”

Although there are challenges and areas that are continuing to be improved, “all of this is why we have programs throughout the process and look multiple times through the system, instead of looking once and saying, ‘That’s good,’” Jech said.

With the positive impacts that have resulted from the DOD Food Defense Program, it is the wise facility that follows such a process – whether food be a primary, secondary, or tertiary operation.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.