The US Food and Drug Administration has linked up with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) to conduct an in-depth review of preventive measures that food processors may take to reduce the risk for an intentional act of terrorism or contamination.
As part of this contract, IFT will provide information about temperature, technology, chemical treatments, and other ways that may reduce or mitigate the risk.
Undoubtedly the results of the study will be keenly observed in Europe, where there is also growing concern for similar attacks to the food chain and on food processors.
"Safeguarding the US food supply is an enormous task and one of our highest priorities, and we are committed to doing this job as efficiently as possible," said FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan. "This contract with a nationally recognised group of experts will help FDA make the nation's food supply even more secure."
The review will assess ways to prevent or reduce the risk of contamination of processed food either through natural or intentional acts and will provide information on various research needs that might be used for eliminating or reducing the risk. Currently there are more than 57,000 food processors in the US that provide processed foods to our citizens and exports to the world and over 1.2 million retail food facilities serving and/or selling foods directly to the consumer.
This effort will complement ongoing food security efforts, existing food security guidance, and proposed regulations. The industry guidances, published in March 2003, are not regulations and are not mandatory. Those guidances identified the kinds of preventive measures that may be taken to minimize the risk that food under their control will be subject to tampering or other malicious, criminal, or terrorist actions, and they focused on management, staff, public access (visitors), the facility and operations.
The IFT review will focus on preventive controls and research needs that might be used for eliminating or reducing the risk of an intentional act of terrorism or contamination for high and medium risk combinations of various food commodities and agents. The review will include information on how these research needs technologies work, optimisation of the method or processes, effectiveness, limitations in use, and equipment or methods for monitoring to ensure method and processes efficiency throughout the entire operation.
Discussions and deliberations involved with IFT's review will be confidential, with the possibility that some of the information developed could become classified to protect national security. The review is expected to be completed by June 2004.
So far European authorities have not been as reactive to the threat of food terrorism. The most far-reaching measures have been drawn up by the World Health Organisation, which at the beginning of this year published a report with suggested guide lines for manufacturers on a global basis. However the threat of food terrorism in Europe is not generally viewed to be as acute as it in the US, with cases of intentional food contamination there being thus far very limited.