What is food defense and why is it important?
Food defense is the protection of food products from contamination or adulteration intended to cause public health harm or economic disruption.
The food system within the United States continues to increase in complexity, diversity, and reliance upon interconnected domestic and global systems. Concurrently, the threat landscape and potential sources of intentional adulteration continue to evolve and increase in complexity, which could ultimately have a powerful impact on public health and the economy.
Responsibility for the global food supply chain is shared across all levels of government (foreign and domestic) and through collaborative, public-private partnerships with industry. Developing comprehensive risk management systems to protect the food supply establishes a foundation for minimizing public health and economic impacts and ultimately promotes food security and resilience.
What is FSIS’s role in food defense?
Food defense continues to be a priority for FSIS. The Significant Incident Preparedness and Response Staff (SIPRS) within FSIS works with government agencies at all levels, industry, and other organizations to develop and implement strategies to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from intentional contamination of the food supply. FSIS promotes food defense by encouraging establishments to voluntarily adopt a functional food defense plan; implement food defense practices (including inside, outside, and personnel security measures); and conduct training and exercises to ensure preparedness.
The primary functions of SIPRS include:
- Conducting vulnerability assessments;
- Collaborating with Federal, state, local, and tribal governments, industry, and academic partners to promote food defense;
- Developing and sharing guidance for developing and maintaining food defense practices, including functional food defense plans;
- Identifying and implementing countermeasures and mitigation strategies;
- Conducting analysis of food defense surveillance data;
- Maintaining close relationships with the intelligence and law enforcement communities to educate collectors and analysts on food defense to better inform their work and enhance the exchange of information (e.g., Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center (CTAC), Infragard); and
- Working with the scientific community on food defense research initiatives, integrated project teams, and risk assessment workgroups.
FSIS inspection program personnel perform food defense tasks in all regulated establishments to identify vulnerabilities that may lead to intentional contamination of product. These tasks also allow FSIS to understand food defense practices that are being implemented by industry, thus providing a better understanding of preparedness and ultimately guiding outreach and education activities. The data from the tasks are used to measure the percentage of establishments that maintain food defense practices which supports Goal 1 of the FSIS Strategic Plan 2023-2026.
For food products not regulated by FSIS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) works with other government agencies and private sector organizations to help reduce the risk of tampering or other malicious, criminal, or terrorist actions on the food and cosmetic supply. FDA offers a variety of food defense tools and resources, including the Food Defense 101 online course.
What is the relationship between Food Defense, Food Safety, and Food Security?
In order to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats and hazards of greatest risk to the food supply, it is important that preparedness efforts encompass food safety, food defense, and food security. While there are distinct differences between these three concepts, a comprehensive approach that addresses food safety, food defense, and food security considerations improves resilience and protects public health.
- Food Defense - the protection of food products from contamination or adulteration intended to cause public health harm or economic disruption
- Food Safety - the protection of food products from unintentional contamination
- Food Security - when all people, at all times, have both physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2014)
Functional Food Defense Plan
Information on what constitutes a functional food defense plan and tools and resources that are available to help industry put a food defense plan into place.
International Food Defense
An overview of FSIS’ involvement in international food defense activities, including workshops and other outreach initiatives.
Food Defense and Transportation
An overview of transportation-specific vulnerabilities related to FSIS-regulated products, including tools and resources the transportation industry can use to implement food defense security measures.
Tools, Resources, and Training
A comprehensive list of food defense tools, resources, and training materials for both regulators and industry.
FSIS conducts vulnerability assessments to better prevent and protect against an intentional attack on its regulated products. Based on the assessments, FSIS develops countermeasures to protect the food supply as directed by National Security Memorandum 16. Additionally, these assessments help to identify research gaps and strengthen communication and collaboration between government and industry partners.
From these assessments, certain activity types (e.g., bulk liquid receiving and loading; liquid storage and handling; secondary ingredient handling; and mixing and similar activities) and characteristics (e.g., short shelf-life, large batch size, uniform mixing, accessibility to the product) were identified that present unique vulnerability to intentional contamination. These activity types and characteristics may occur at multiple process and distribution steps within the supply chain.
Vulnerability assessments also help to identify food defense countermeasures and mitigation strategies aimed at preventing or reducing the impact of an intentional attack on the food supply. Mitigation strategies are risk-based, reasonably appropriate measures that a person knowledgeable about food defense would employ to significantly minimize or prevent significant vulnerabilities identified at actionable process steps, and that are consistent with the current scientific understanding of food defense at the time of the analysis. Mitigation strategies can apply to multiple commodities or facility types, or they can be customized for a specific commodity or facility. Once vulnerabilities and corresponding mitigation strategies have been identified, they can be used to develop a food defense plan.
Preparedness Tools and Resources
The Food Defense Risk Mitigation Tool identifies some possible countermeasures that companies could implement, as part of a food defense plan, to better protect their business, employees, and customers. Some of the countermeasures are specific to particular assets or activities (nodes); others apply more generally to the facility as a whole. The countermeasures listed in this tool are neither mandatory nor exhaustive. Not all of the identified strategies will be applicable, practical, or effective for all types and sizes of slaughter and processing establishments. Additional strategies not included here may also be useful. The user should implement countermeasures appropriate to the specific circumstances of their establishment and operations.
Food Defense Plan Builder. The Food Defense Plan Builder is a user-friendly software program designed to assist owners and operators of food facilities with developing personalized food defense plans for their facilities. This user-friendly tool harnesses existing FDA tools, guidance, and resources for food defense into one single application.
National Policies and Directives
- National Security Memorandum-16 Strengthening the Security and Resilience of United States Food and Agriculture (NSM-16) (2023) – A plan for federal government agencies, along with SLTT governments and other partners, to continue their collaboration on ensuring the nation’s food and agricultural sector is secure and resilient against domestic and global threats. The 120 Day Food and Agriculture Interim Risk Review, provides a review of critical and emergent risks to the U.S. Food and Agriculture sector, as well as ways to mitigate those risks.
- Presidential Policy Directive 8, National Preparedness (2011) – establishes a policy aimed at “strengthening the security and resilience” of the United States through “systematic preparation for the threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the nation,” including acts of terrorism, cyber-attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters.
- Presidential Policy Directive 21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience (2013) – establishes a national policy on critical infrastructure security and resilience and refines and clarifies the critical infrastructure-related functions, roles, and responsibilities across the Federal Government, as well as enhances overall coordination and collaboration.
- Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (2013) – calls for the development of a Cybersecurity Framework to increase the level of core capabilities for critical infrastructure to manage cyber risk by focusing on information sharing, privacy, and the adoption of cyber security practices.
Disposal and Decontamination Guidance
In the event that a biological, chemical or radiological agent is used in an attack that affects the safety of meat, poultry or egg products, there is a need to ensure the proper disposal of contaminated product and possible additional laboratory testing. If a processing facility is contaminated there is also the need to ensure that the facility has been decontaminated and meets FSIS sanitation requirements before it resumes operation.
- Disposal and Decontamination Guidelines
- Federal Food and Agriculture Decontamination and Disposal Roles and Responsibilities (PDF Only)
- FSIS Directive 5500.4
- Food Emergency Response Network (FERN)
Recovery from food contamination with threat agents requires specific guidelines for disposal and decontamination to ensure the safety of the food supply and the environment.
- FSIS, in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has developed disposal and decontamination guidelines for food products and food processing facilities intentionally contaminated with threat agents.
- FSIS Directive 5500.4, Products Intentionally Adulterated with Threat Agents, has been developed to inform agency field personnel of their roles and responsibilities in the case of an intentional contamination in a food processing facility.
Food Emergency Response Network (FERN)
During recovery, FERN will continue to assist and coordinate analytical activities to restore public confidence in the safety of the food supply. FERN will also provide laboratory support for investigations of and recovery from terrorism-related events affecting the food supply. In addition, FERN will be used to confirm the safety of the food supply using analytical tests.
FSIS recognizes the importance of good communication with the media to ensure informed reporting to more quickly recover from an incident of deliberate contamination. Communications is a standard component in agency exercises and is designed to inform participants of issues surrounding communications with the media and the public during the response and recovery phases of an incident. **For Media Inquiries Contact: the FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Office at (202) 720-9113.