All of us in the perishable foods industry are keenly aware of the importance of a strong Food Defense Program as a facet of public health. Keeping food safe keeps communities safe. This means food manufacturers must have a vigorous plan that covers not only mitigation strategies and corrective measures, but also more proactive measures like risk assessment.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends periodic vulnerability assessments in order to identify potential weaknesses in manufacturing processes. Conducting a thorough assessment is essential for creation of mitigation measures and strengthening the overall Food Defense Program.
Conducting a vulnerability assessment can vary given the types of products your facility manufactures, but the overall approach is the same:
Step One: Choose Your Focus
Consider the variables inherent in your specific food facility. Some examples might include storage of chemical and hazardous materials, transportation of ingredients or finished food products, indoor and outdoor security precautions, and even vetting of facility personnel.
Step Two: Involve Your Team in Hypothetical Scenarios
Once you have determined the focus for your vulnerability assessment, take your team through possible scenarios that would present challenges. For example, if you believe that your facility has adequate physical security, you might run a scenario where an unauthorized person attempts to gain access to the building.
Step Three: Gather Feedback from Your Team
The benefit in involving your team in vulnerability scenarios is that you gain valuable information from their feedback. Your team can provide insights to portions of your process that you may not be as well-acquainted with, giving you critical details to help strengthen your overall Food Defense Program. Plus, since they have taken an active role in developing mitigation strategies, you are more likely to get strict adherence to those measures.
There are a number of great tools and resources available to assist you in strengthening your Food Defense Program through vulnerability assessments. The FDA offers an online Food Defense Plan Builder with informative webinars. You are guided through not only various assessments but also mitigation strategies, security measures, and follow-up procedures. The United States Department of Agriculture offers an online Food Defense Risk Mitigation Tool which focuses mainly on implementing countermeasures once vulnerabilities are identified.
The team at Harvest Food Solutions is here to help you create a Food Defense Program that works for your business. From goal setting to implementation, we are with you every step of the way.