WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration here last week issued a sweeping set of guidelines to prevent a bioterrorist attack on the nation's food supply.
The voluntary guidelines, which were issued in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and published in the Federal Register last week, cover multiple areas of potential risk -- from computer systems to physical access to food establishments -- and are aimed at retailers, domestic food producers, processors and importers.
Among other recommendations, the FDA encourages food establishment operators to consider conducting daily security checks of their buildings for signs of tampering with product or equipment; inspecting vehicles for suspicious, inappropriate or unusual activity; restricting access to computer process control systems; performing criminal background checks on employees; providing food security training to new employees, including information on preventing and detecting tampering; and watching for odd behavior by new employees, such as staying past the end of their shift or arriving to work unusually early.
The guidelines were written after the FDA gathered input from leaders of the industry following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an FDA spokesman told SN.
The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, praised the guidelines, particularly those related to employee background checks.
"This is important," Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of FMI, told SN. "If somebody's going to do damage to a company, they can do greater damage from the inside as an employee than on the outside."
The guidelines also should ease concerns about probing too deeply into the backgrounds of prospective employees, he said. "Sometimes you'll get the legal or HR department raising questions about whether it's a privacy [issue] or not," Hammonds said. "Having FDA guidelines saying you should do that gives them a basis to implement this policy."