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Snapshot: New Web-Based Tools to Help Food Companies Protect the Food Supply

Snapshot: New Web-Based Tools to Help Food Companies Protect the Food Supply

Release Date: 
July 18, 2017

Our economy, livelihood and wellbeing depend on food and its supply chains. Supply chains may break if a natural disaster destroys a crop in its primary production region, or if someone tampers with food to cause harm or raise profits. In such cases we need to find out quickly about these incidents and find alternative sources of food ingredients and supplies.

“If something disastrous happens, like a public health emergency caused by the adulteration of a food product, consumer trust in the food supply will be damaged and the global supply chain will be disrupted,” said Matthew Coats, Deputy Director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Office of University Programs. He is also Program Manager for the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI). The FPDI is one of DHS S&T’s Centers of Excellence.

Determining the origins of a disruption is important not only for a company or a government, Coats explained. The disruption can also impact the overarching food and agriculture sector as a whole, leading to lack of food items in stores or people being afraid to buy certain items for fear of becoming sick or dying.

Intentional adulteration is the deliberate tampering of food to either increase profits or cause harm to businesses or public health. Historically, accessing data regarding how intentional adulteration impacts food and supply chains has been limited due to the lack of centralized system and repository. Business owners and the government would spend countless hours and resources searching for relevant answers in order to address emergencies.

Fortunately, S&T provided funding to FPDI, to develop a solution. As a result, FPDI created two interactive, web-based databases with relevant up-to-date information focused on food adulteration cases and food supply chains. Anyone can access these databases through an annual paid service hosted on easy to use websites.

The first of these tools, the Food Adulteration Incident Registry (FAIR), is a searchable, regularly updated collection of current and historical intentional adulteration cases. FAIR captures both economically motivated incidents and harmful occurrences such as terrorism, sabotage, or revenge. It also includes characteristics used to support food defense efforts by predicting and determining threats based on past incidents. The information is searchable and includes affected food products, adulterants used, methods of fraud, health consequences, and location of incidents from 1980 to present. Currently, FAIR contains more than 600 unique adulteration incidents and is growing.

The other tool is the World Factbook of Food. Serving as a central reference repository of data, it is organized into a series of food and country profiles developed and modeled after CIA’s World Factbook. The World Factbook of Food identifies food and agriculture activities occurring from farm to fork including high risk foods, average production, trade, common food and non-food uses, standards, value, rankings, seasonality, processing steps and supply chain structure, adulteration and contamination events, and product flow.

Repeated requests from both private and government sectors led to collaboration between FPDI and the DHS Office of University Programs for the development of these tools, Coats said. The need for these tools was also driven by repeated intentional adulteration events in our food supply with many causing public health harm.

Additionally, FAIR and the Factbook support a law called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. The law, signed in 2011, gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to control the way domestic and imported food is grown, harvested, and processed.

“The new regulations in FSMA require companies to assess intentional adulteration including food fraud or economically motivated adulteration that might result public health harm. These two tools, Food Adulteration Incident Registry and World Factbook of Food, give food companies information in a condensed easily usable format to meet the requirements,” said Dr. Jennifer van de Ligt, Associate Director of FPDI.

“The development of these products, and other new food defense solutions, is a highly collaborative process between FPDI, the Office of University Programs, DHS, FDA, USDA, other federal stakeholders, and the food industry” said FPDI’s project manager Penny Norquist.

With these two databases, the private and government sectors will be able to understand and assess key factors influencing supply chain risks. This will allow them to proactively identify and prepare for possible disruptions.

If, for example, a granola bar company needs cinnamon, the company can identify the major standards, trade flow and production regions from around the world by referencing the World Factbook of Food. In their search, they would discover that most of the cinnamon is produced in Indonesia, and its global use and production is rising. The company can then verify the history of intentional adulteration by evaluating cinnamon in FAIR. The combination of information including past history, primary production region, and how a commodity is produced and used will help identify foods and ingredients at higher risk of adulteration.

Another use for the tools is disruption recovery. For example, with the granola bar scenario, what if Indonesia experiences significant flooding, political unrest or public health outbreaks that impact worker availability? The granola bar manufacturer can identify what food commodities are grown in the affected area. When cinnamon is identified, the tools provide other options to help their supply chain, such as identifying alternate production regions along with their associated risks of adulteration.

“If you really are a granola bar supplier, these are tools to research the risks in your ingredient supply chain much more quickly and efficiently,” Norquist said.

Knowledge, like the information in these two tools, help business owners better assess risks to their supply chains and then take actions to reduce them. “They provide a way to build resilience in your supply chain and, when disruptions occur, provide resources to recover more quickly,” Coats said.

The Factbook and FAIR are currently available as an individual license subscription cost of $600 per year. Interested individuals have free access to sample data sets before subscribing.

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