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NRA prepares new food security initiative

Faced with post-September 11 jitters, the National Restaurant Association, Washington, has finalized a new food security initiative for foodservice operators that it has dubbed TEAM.

"Threat Exposure, Assessment and Management" is a set of guidelines for restaurateurs that will help them detect areas of intended contamination of the nation's food supply, according to Steven Grover, the NRA's vice-president, health and safety regulatory affairs.

"The TEAM approach is a way for operators to critically look at their facilities and determine where they have the most exposure to possible food contamination and develop management procedures to address that. It also includes tips and security awareness procedures for employees," Grover explains.

This latest NRA effort is not meant to replace HACCP - Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, the industry's preeminent food safety principles and guidelines. While HACCP addresses unintentional contamination of food, Grover notes that the "TEAM approach is designed to look for and manage those incidence where there might be intentional contamination." TEAM borrows elements from HACCP and other similar programs and then refocuses on food security, he says.

Among the tips that it offers operators is in the field of human resources. Operators are urged to know who is working in their restaurants by conducting appropriate background checks, requesting employment histories and valid identifications, and then verifying everything. "I think it is critically important to know who is working in the restaurant industry and all segments of the industry," Grover emphasizes.

Operators are also being asked to take a look at the security of their premises, keep the exterior doors, except those used by customers, locked during business hours and secure storage areas. They should also conduct security awareness exercises with their employees, making sure they are looking for unusual acts in and around the facility. "If employees see something, they should report it to management. It might be just that act of spotting and reporting something unusual that might prevent something from happening," he adds.

TEAM is part of a three-pronged NRA effort to boost the industry's awareness of food security. The restaurant industry's national organization has used its Food Safety Summit as a forum for experts to educate operators about the need for vigilance. Furthermore, Grover, points out, the NRA has boosted its cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI by sharing food security information and intelligence with the government and then forwarding that to members of the industry.

Grover explains that the formulation of the TEAM initiative is a sign of the times and not directly the result of concrete evidence that the domestic foodservice industry has been targeted by terrorist organizations. On the contrary, he believes that the industry is not a suitable mark for mass fanatical groups, but certainly so for troubled individuals.

"We do believe that a lone individual would probably be more of a threat and there is a higher likelihood that an incident like that would happen. We're basically designing the program to assess all of the risks," says Grover. Why does he disavow an organized effort? "It would be quite difficult for an organized terrorist group to have the knowledge of the industry and to perpetrate something that would not be caught up in the multiple and overlapping controls that exist in the food industry today. Virtually every segment of the industry has controls in place that are obvious and not obvious to determine the safety of the food as it passes from farm to table. To design something that eludes all of those multiple and overlapping controls would be very difficult for such a terrorist," he explains.

Grover sees great interest in food security across the industry and government, and believes that it should be addressed responsibly. "We're concentrating on the restaurant industry segment. However, we know that the TEAM approach is being adopted by food processors and others," Grover explains, adding that the acronym carries the extra message of a team. He points out that food security is not the responsibility of one industry, restaurant or person, but rather of all restaurateurs. "What we truly believe is that this is a team effort. We want everyone working together on food security awareness. It's not one segment," he says.

Distributors also should be involved in the initiative, Grover continues, pointing out that TEAM can be modified for this segment of the farm-to-table supply chain. "There is an awareness among the leaders of foodservice distribution of the principles of what we're doing. Based on the conversations that I've had with foodservice distribution executives, I'm quite satisfied that they are working in the same direction that we are," he says. In addition to potentially preventing a catastrophe, Grover is convinced the initiative will increase the comfort level of employees and customers.

The soon-to-be published TEAM booklet, has been prepared by the NRA and the NRA Educational Foundation. Some of its principles will also be incorporated into its ServSafe manuals for managers. The booklet will be available for a fee on the NRA's website: www.restaurant.org, or the NRA Educational Foundation: www.nraef.org.

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