MU tackles food defense
Program teaches about protecting food from intentional contamination
The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and MU Extension are teaching farmers, meat and poultry processors, agriculture students, food service professionals and others how to defend against intentional food contamination.
"There are many vulnerable access points within the farm-to-table food chain," said Bob Weaber, MU Extension beef specialist.
Weaber is one of eight University of Missouri faculty members participating in a USDA Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service grant to develop a food defense education program for use by Extension specialists and educators at land-grant universities as well as food-industry producers, processors and retailers.
"We want to develop a pre-harvest and post-harvest food defense training to ensure a safe food supply," said Carol Lorenzen, grant leader and associate professor in animal sciences.
MU's education efforts focus on how operations can develop their own food defense plans. To create a food defense plan, operations target vulnerabilities and take steps to reduce them. Food defense plans also define what actions to take if an outbreak occurs.
Food defense plans are now voluntary in the meat industry, said Kristi Savage-Clarke, coordinator of the MU food defense program. But if voluntary compliance doesn't become widespread, the USDA's meat-inspection service may seek legislative authority to make such plans mandatory for meat processors.
Most large-scale operations already have food defense plans in place. MU faculty and Extension specialists are helping smaller operations develop their own plans. "We promote low-cost and easy-to-maintain plans and tell producers and processors that making their own plan may be less stringent than a federally imposed plan," Savage-Clarke said.
Enhancing an operation's food defense capability can involve such simple matters as installing locks on gates, logging all visitors and posting a list of emergency contacts.
In the classroom, MU students in animal science, food science, agricultural education, hotel and restaurant management, and rural sociology are learning about food defense. "Rather than develop entire new courses, we develop teaching materials covering a wide range of disciplines that can be inserted into existing courses," Lorenzen said.
MU is also developing a Web-based resource that will include sample food defense plans for specific types of operations. Training modules and other materials will be available to other educational institutions.
"The U.S. has the safest and most abundant food supply in the world and this grant is aimed at improving security to keep it that way," Lorenzen said.