Risk Of Contamination Rises As Global Food System Expands

CHICAGO—As they work to protect the nation’s food supply from accidental contamination and intentional threats, food industry and homeland security experts alike are feeling the weight of the world.

“You can’t buy a hamburger without touching the global system,” said Col. John T. Hoffman, a senior research fellow with the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, in Minneapolis.

Speaking yesterday at the Institute of Food Technologists Global Food Safety & Quality conference, Hoffman said that the food industry is becoming an increasingly complex global network of supply chains, and the need to collaborate with public and private trade partners has never been more pressing.

“We have to be able to do this in a way that facilitates trade, protects our trading partners, and reduces the risk to ourselves and our partners, because the food industry is becoming a fully global system,” he urged.

Businesses have an increasing array of risk assessment tools that can help, including the new CARVER+Shock system that assesses companies’ vulnerabilities. While such programs offer businesses an essential indicator, Hoffman says the government is pushing for a system that’s more efficient in making data accessible on a broader scale.

Hoffman noted that a significant action receiving little public notice is the Presidential Executive Order of the Safety of Imports, which prompted interagency review of import safety issues.

“This was an important development,” Hoffman said. “It asks agencies ranging from the USDA, FDA and Department of Homeland Security to the Commerce Department and Consumer Safety Product Commission to look at our authority and see what we should be doing to improve import safety.”

“We need to ask how we can partner with the private sector and foreign governments reciprocally to improve how we protect each other,” Hoffman said.

The recent pet food contamination involving melamine was a tremendous wake-up call regarding potential risks, and dealing outside the regulations of our own borders—especially with a major trading force like China, Hoffman commented.

“This really was an unsophisticated case of some suppliers in China trying to save some money with a new ingredient, but the fallout was significant,” Hoffman said.

Imports from China to the U.S. have increased significantly in the past four years, but the U.S. did not maintain that same pace in its preparation for increased risk, Hoffman said.

Specific areas of security that need heightened focus include surveillance and supply chain verification and validation, an effort that Hoffman urges businesses to initiate.

“(Supply chain verification) is something that is just as important as anything the government can do. This action alone may have prevented the whole melamine situation.”

The IFT Global Food Safety & Quality conference and the concurrent IFT Food Nanoscience conference concluded Wednesday.


Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see IFT.org.

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