Food defence – defending against intentional harm

Posted by Dean Stockwell on 3rd October 2018

THE issue of malicious product tampering in strawberries is serious.

Events such as this cause incalculable harm. Direct harm can be physical or health related, economic or reputational.

Harm is wide reaching as it affects producers, supply chain operators and retailers, employees, the regulatory authorities and consumers.

Equally serious, is the indirect harm of potential loss of consumer confidence in the food supply.

Many people and business in the food industry will be asking ‘what steps should I be taking to reduce the risk to my products, business, customers and staff?’

One option is to consider extending your risk-based plan (food safety plan, food control plan, risk management plan) to include food defence.

Food defence – what is it?

Food defence is the protection of food products from intentional contamination or adulteration by biological, chemical, physical, or radiological agents.

Food defence is an emerging area of threat, where the threat is intentional and is perpetrated by an ‘insider’ or ‘external agent’.

Types of intentional harm include:

Adulteration – using a substance in some ways similar to the food product. Melamine in baby food is an example of adulteration, where the nitrogen in melamine was detected as protein resulting in low protein infant food being sold with ‘apparent typical’ protein. This can also be considered food fraud, but there was a severe, detrimental food safety outcome as well.

Malicious contamination such as the threat of 1080 poison in dairy products.

IP theft – espionage –such as unlawfully obtaining formulations or processing technology.

Counterfeiting – where a cheaper alternative product is put onto the market and represented as the original or another similar higher value product.

Cyber or systems attack where food safety risk can be brought about for example by altering processing conditions or records, corruption of quality and grade data corruption or logistics records.

The motivation for causing intentional harm can be:

  • Economic
  • Ideological
  • Personal – revenge, opportunist satisfaction

Also in Australian Food News 

 Risk assessment and mitigation

Reducing risk from malicious or intentional attack is challenging and requires a different mindset when applying risk analysis processes.

One approach applies a methodology called Threat Assessment Critical Control Point (TACCP), a risk management methodology similar to HACCP. This approach is applied throughout the supply chain and business operations, asking

  • Who might want to attack us?
  • How might they do it?
  • Where are we vulnerable?
  • How can we stop them?


  • Preparing for an event – i.e. revising business continuity plans, crisis management and communications planning to take account of potential food defence issues

A Threat Assessment Critical Control Point (TACCP) can assist in

1.     Reducing the chance of a successful attack and thereby protecting consumers

2.     Demonstrating due diligence

3.     Providing confidence to national and international customers

Now is a good time!

Now is a good time to review your risk-based safety programme and include food defence. Further information can be obtained by contacting:

Dean Stockwell