COLUMBIA, Mo.-University of Missouri specialists are working to ensure that food producers, processors and retailers know how to protect the state's food supply from intentional contamination.

Food defense is important all along the path from farm to plate. "Agriculture is a very segmented industry, so there are many opportunities for intentional contamination," said Carol Lorenzen, MU Extension state meat science specialist.

"Most people don't think it's a local risk," said Marcia Shannon, a MU Extension state swine specialist. "They think, 'I don't need a food defense plan. I'm just raising 100 pigs out here, so how could it possibly impact me?' But not being prepared could put your company or your livelihood at risk."

Shannon worked with a cross-disciplinary team to develop food defense training for professionals across the state. The work is sponsored by a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Integrated Food Safety Initiative.

Lorenzen said that MU has trained regional extension livestock and engineering specialists to help facilitate food defense plans in their own communities and has directly certified more than 120 producers and processors in Missouri.

Setting up a food defense plan isn't necessarily as daunting as it might sound, Shannon said. "When you look at the manual and see what it takes to develop a food defense plan, you realize it's cheap, involving things as simple as perimeter fences, lighting and putting a lock on your door. This is not intended to be labor-intensive, time-consuming or expensive, but rather focuses on things any producer can do."

MU has developed teaching materials to incorporate food defense into agriculture- and food-related courses in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Pennsylvania State University also is using food defense coursework developed at MU.

MU's food defense efforts include an expanding collection of free online resources such as worksheets, model food defense plans, document templates, as well as PowerPoint presentations and other instructional materials tailored for undergraduate courses and outreach programming. (See

While the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration don't currently mandate food defense plans, that could change with the Food Safety Modernization Act that currently is waiting for a vote in the Senate.

"We don't know where it's going to end up, but we do know the FDA wants more authority to regulate food defense," Lorenzen said. "If the government decides to mandate food defense plans, then graduates of the University of Missouri will be prepared to create them at their places of business."

Source: Marcia Shannon, University of Missouri Extension