Consumers may view them as stomach-churning social media memes but recent instances of people licking ice cream or spitting in bottled beverages at supermarkets before putting the products back on shelves are categorized as intentional food contamination events. The culprits may face prison sentences of up to 20 years to reflect the severity of danger such behavior poses to public health. After all, saliva can transmit bacteria and viruses, possibly spreading infections such as colds, influenza, measles, and mononucleosis, just to name a few.
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Now that the original acts are inspiring a rash of copycats in the U.S., FDA recently issued a reminder to retailers on the resources available and suggested best practices to prevent food adulteration.
At the store level, FDA recommends:
- Carefully and thoroughly inspecting incoming products and product returns for signs of tampering, contamination, or damage.
- Creating a system for receiving, storing, and handling distressed, damaged, and returned products and products left at checkout counters to minimize their potential for being compromised.
- Consistently examining store products for evidence of tampering such as stained, leaking, damaged packaging, missing or mismatched labels, and evidence of resealing.
- Using employees, video cameras, and one- and two-way windows to keep an eye on as much of the store as possible to deter unusual or suspicious activity.
On the operations side, FDA recommends:
- Reading its Guidance for Industry: Food Security Preventive Measures Guidance for Retail Food Stores and Food Service Establishments, making sure to review the guidance in each section that relates to a component of your operation and assess which preventive measures are suitable.
- Training employees on food defense awareness via FDA’s Employees FIRST program, which educates front-line food industry workers from farm to table about the risk of intentional food contamination and the actions they can take to identify and reduce these risks.
- Periodically reminding staff of security procedures that prevent food tampering.
- Emphasizing staff’s role in preventing intentional food contamination events in accordance with FDA’s See Something Say Something campaign, which outlines indicators of suspicious activities as well as recommended protective measures.
Even before products reach retail shelves, FDA hopes to prevent intentional food contamination via the new Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This rule requires certain food processing facilities to prepare and implement a food defense plan that identifies vulnerabilities and actionable process steps, mitigation strategies, and procedures for food defense monitoring, corrective actions and verification.