The Many Faces of Food Security

When the term “food security” is spoken, one may conjure the images of a terrorist tainting the food supply as part of some covert operation. While that is very much a real threat in post-9/11 times, food security’s image is far from one-dimensional protection from terrorist attacks. In fact, food security is an ever-changing enigma with many faces, some of which threaten the safety and quality of food in all stages of the farm-to-fork supply chain.

And the disguises, if not personas, make food security even more elusive. There’s the careless warehouse worker urinating near packaged produce, the deceptive woman who planted a severed finger in some chili in an attempt to scam Wendy’s and the aloof waiter who served degreaser over a salad because the cleaning crew left behind a jug of what looked red wine vinegar.

Food security also comes into play in natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and most recently, the illnesses and deaths stemming from foodborne pathogens and avian flu. [See “News and Notes, p. 12.] It even has bipolar tendencies – in government speak “food insecurity” is a sanitized term from USDA to delineate poverty and hunger.

“Food security by its wording is not what you think it is,” says Gary Ades, president of G & L Consulting Group (Bentonville, Ark.) and a member of Food Quality’s editorial advisory panel.

Randall Atlas, vice president of Atlas Safety and Security Design, a Miami, Fla.-based consulting firm that helps the food industry bolster security and safety, agrees, noting that security needs to be an extension of quality.

“Security takes on many different shapes and sizes,” he says. “It’s not always about an act of terrorism. It’s a matter of protecting the sanctity of products and services.”

Ades, Atlas and Gordon Meriwether, principal of food safety consulting firm, The Uriah Group (Falls Church, Va.), are presenting conference tracks on security at the Food Safety & Security Summit, March 6-8, at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.

The three conference presenters along with Jeff Nelken, a food forensics and food safety expert based in Woodland Hills, Calif., spoke with Food Quality and provided insight on everything from the root of food security’s meaning to assessing and minimizing risk to pointing out where food safety falls on the priority list. All agreed that every link of the supply chain needs to be prepared for food safety crises no matter what ugly head is proverbially reared.

The Face(s) of Food Security

The perception of food security has certainly changed in the last decade, which has ushered in not only the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but also the largest meat recalls in history, illnesses and death from foodborne pathogens, anthrax and avian flu.

Federal agencies certainly bolstered food defenses in the wake of the terrorists’ attacks with the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. Specifically, “Title III: Protecting Safety and Security of Food and Drug Supply” aims to combat food adulteration as well as develop crisis communications and education strategies with respect to bioterrorist threats to the food supply with federal agencies, the food industry, consumer and producer groups, scientific organizations, and local health departments. [See www.fda. gov/oc/bioterrorism/PL107-188.html#title3.]

The true face of food security, however, is not solely that of a terrorist, a disgruntled, tampering employee or the victim of an outbreak. To know food security, one must first look into the eyes of the needy, according to the United Nations and the USDA.

Two commonly used definitions of food security come from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the USDA.

According to the FAO, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

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