Auburn program will guard food supply against bioterrorism

Shelly McKee, who joined AU’s Poultry Products Safety and Quality Peak of Excellence program last year, said her program, known as FoodSecure, will help small- and medium-sized food processors develop detailed, individualized plans for protecting "their people and their products" from deliberate biological, chemical or radiological contamination.

McKee will begin offering FoodSecure workshops to food processors in Alabama and at the regional level this summer. The Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station scientist is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice to launch similar programs nationwide within a year.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and in light of the current heightened national terrorist alert level, food biosecurity has emerged as a serious concern. Both USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have issued voluntary guidelines for food processors to follow in establishing plans for preventing and responding to acts of bioterrorism. While large companies may have the resources and the expertise available to develop their own terrorism response plans based on those broad guidelines, however, smaller companies have basically been left on their own, McKee said.

"Most processing plants already have programs in place to protect their products against natural and accidental contamination, but many of them don’t know where to start in developing a plan to deal with intentional contamination with biological agents," McKee said.

"With FoodSecure, we will walk them through the process of creating a plan, step by step," said McKee, who worked closely with security experts as she developed the program. "One of our first steps will be to use a quantitative vulnerability assessment we’ve developed to help processors identify areas where they are most vulnerable to attacks. Then we’ll help them prioritize those risks and come up with strategies to mitigate them."

Processors will be given the tools to develop their customized, user-friendly emergency response plans in the intensive three-day FoodSecure workshops McKee will kick off this summer.

"Participants will get actively involved in these workshops," McKee said. "When they leave, they will have the means to develop working response plans that can be implemented immediately and on a daily basis."

Although she developed FoodSecure specifically for food processors, McKee currently is collaborating with Kansas State and Farmland Foods, the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperative, to develop a comprehensive agriculture security plan that will insure food safety and security along every step of the food chain, from the farm to the dinner table.

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