Protecting the Food Chain

Safeguarding your health and nutrition

Food Protection – no, that’s not about hiding your stash of sweets and chocolate from children, your spouse, housemates (or even yourself if you are struggling with a diet). Instead, it refers to protecting our food supply from accidental or intentional contamination/adulteration that could  harm people or disrupt the economy. We often take our food for granted, and put a huge amount of trust in the various components of the food supply chain to keep us safe (if not always healthy). And the scale of the food industry is just vast – the World Bank estimates that it takes up about 10% of the global GDP. That equates to roughly $7.5 trillion, which means we’re going to need a bigger cupboard to stash our chocolate.

Almost every country in the world has faced food contamination issues at some point, whether intentional or accidental – be it dangerous baby formula; horse meat in beef burgers; food coloring injected into fruit and milk; rat poison in panettone; or even scarier, cyanide in mustard! Some posed a serious threat to human life, while others had significant impact on local and international trade.

Sniffing out the problem

That increase in complexity of our food chain isn’t just down to increased processing, but a significant shift in where we get the food that we eat. There has been a massive increase in food imports in recent years with improved refrigeration technologies, longer-lasting food products and faster transportation. So, keeping our food safe requires carefully tracking and controlling ingredients and finished products from all over the globe, with a multitude of opportunities for accidental or intentional contamination. Much of this risk can be minimized with improved training, better processes and more safety checks.

Cameras can keep an eye on things

Video surveillance can be a key part of that: helping prevent accidental or intentional contamination; respond to incidents; as well as improving general food-handling procedures and staff training. Better perimeter protection, to ensure that unauthorized individuals can’t access a food site in the first place; as well as enhanced internal security to monitor those with access can limit the potential for them to interfere. Security extends from protecting crops and livestock, through to the bulk chemicals used in processed food all the way to supermarkets and restaurants.

So, a panoply of tools and technologies will be required. A network of cameras able to operate in any light conditions will be critical to protect unauthorized access to the perimeter of food sites, especially using thermal technologies at night. A tightly integrated access control system is vital, to prevent uninvited visitors, but also to ensure employees are only given access to those parts of the facility that they need to do their job. In highly sensitive areas, such as R&D, or in sites which could have a critical effect on the food supply chain, facial recognition could also be implemented. Lastly, given the scope of the industry as a whole, and the significant size of some food processing plants, software tools to analyze live video can help identify abnormal activity over a wider area than might otherwise be possible. This will all have to be based on proper risk assessments and backed up by response plans should anything go wrong. So, there are now many different ways to keep the food chain safe and protected.

In the meantime I think I need to beef up security on my chocolate cupboard.

Read more about Axis’ Critical Infrastructure and Food Defense solutions.