Understanding Food Defence

Rolf Uys
 January 16, 2015
Comments (0)
Food Safety

Consider this scenario: You work for a sauce manufacturing facility. Your company has several successful, well established bottled sauce brands .You have just had your annual staff performance appraisals. Two of the workers are very unhappy because they received poor wage increases and they were overlooked for promotion. They decide to get back at management by targeting the company brand name. Using cell phones they film each other opening branded sauce bottles and contaminating it with glass pieces and maintenance chemicals. They create fake accounts on social media and post their home made footage on “YouTube”, “Twitter” and “Facebook” together with the heading: “What really happens at your favourite sauce factory”.

Imagine the damage this can create. The brand name will be irreparably damaged and it will reach billions of people. The scary part is that this scenario is very plausible if one considers that in the global competitiveness index of the world economic forum, South Africa came last out of 144 countries in labour employee cooperation. We do not have a good record in creating happy cooperative work forces.

The question is: How can one prevent this scenario from happening in our factories? The reality is that we can never fully prevent somebody sabotaging food, but we can certainly reduce the risk by implementing a Food Defence program. The simple definition of Food Defence is preventing intentional contamination of food. This should not be confused with food safety which addresses preventing unintentional contamination of food. Malicious sabotage is a risk that cannot be underestimated and needs to be managed. Like food safety, it also needs a formal, structured program to achieve control.

Intentional contamination can be inflicted by not only disgruntled employees, but also contractors, visitors or competitors. Their motive may vary from harming a direct manager, the brand or the company. Microorganisms, foreign objects or chemicals may be used. Recent reported incidents include the deliberate use of needles, pesticides, glass or even condoms to contaminate food. The most prominent being a catering company in Limpopo deliberately sabotaging food for school feeding schemes with glass.

Food Defence is a fundamental requirement of internationally recognized food safety certification schemes including FSSC 22000, BRC and IFS. The problem is however that this requirement is often misunderstood and underestimated by Food Safety teams and Food Safety auditors. This results in weak, poorly written and ineffective Food Defence programs. Many food manufacturers believe that Food Defence means perimeter and gate security along with a one page policy statement. Or, it is simply added as a subheading under the crisis management program, with very little substance.


Aspects that need to be considered in a Food Defence Program are securing silos, water tanks and similar storage devices, tamper proofing final products and sealing in and outbound vehicles. Inter-building access needs to be controlled, particularly sensitive areas such as labs and workshops where contaminants could be easily be obtained. Camera surveillance is an important tool that needs to be put in place to prevent incidents or help investigate incidents.

Monitoring personnel behavior is an often forgotten aspect that requires consideration. An employee is unlikely to sabotage without showing warning signs first. This may be a change in behavior such as aggression, de-motivation of peers or substance addiction. Any such patterns need to be monitored, recorded and dealt with through counseling programs or disciplinary action. The idea being to stop the incident before it may happen. Background checking of all personnel including temporary staff will also go a long way in preventing any food defence incidents in the first place.

A good place to start a food defence program is to do a thorough vulnerability assessment- a basic risk assessment of where the defences are weakest and where resources need to be directed to strengthen it. From here, the control measures can be defined and procedures can be written as appropriate. The program should be driven by a formally appointed team and there should be a formal review process to ensure the momentum is kept. Like food safety, adequate commitment and resources are needed to ensure success.


Rolf Uys will be facilitating various Food Defence workshops during the upcoming months in:

  • Tshwane
  • Western Cape
  • Port Elizabeth

Alternatively, you can email rolf@entecom.co.za to assist in developing your own Food Defence plan for your company.

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