Food Defense 101: Understanding Food Defense Roles and Stakeholders

Posted by Zosi Team

Different professionals from the public and private sectors contribute to food defense. Many of the familiar stakeholders involved in food safety incidents will be required in a food defense incident, but because intentional adulteration is a crime or an act of terror, additional groups will need to be engaged.

When a food defense incident occurs, various groups must coordinate to recall any adulterated product, determine the incident’s cause, and help return to normal business. Food defense professionals must understand their role and their relationship to other groups to support a coordinated approach to protect the food system.

Food Defense Policy

Policy outlines what activities will be performed and how those activities will be performed. In the U.S., policy is written at every level of the food system. For example, a manufacturing facility’s food defense team may write policies for their employees to follow. At the national level, a legislative body is often involved in writing laws.

In 2011, the U.S. Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, otherwise known as FSMA, which included groundbreaking policy on preventing intentional adulteration. FSMA led to regulations directing the food industry to write food defense plans that help meet the national objective of preventing intentional adulteration in food.

Food Defense Planning

The planning process documents activities to prevent, mitigate, or respond to a food defense incident. A food company develops a food defense plan to protect their facility and product with specific mitigation strategies. Governments create plans to coordinate diverse stakeholders involved in their jurisdiction. For example, the U.S. government has National Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Frameworks that guide how agencies coordinate efforts with industry to protect against and respond to emergencies.

Regulation and Inspection

Regulation and inspection are important activities to ensure compliance with policies in a sustained and consistent manner. The major agencies for regulation and inspection in the U.S. are the USDA and the FDA. State, country, and city agriculture and health departments can perform regulation and inspection at the local level. Private industry groups, such as auditors and internal quality control employees, also perform activities under this umbrella.

Food Defense Risk Analysis

Risk analysis is used to assess, manage, and communicate risk. For an in-depth look at risk assessment, management, and communication, click here.


Monitoring includes all activities related to observing and checking food integrity. Monitoring may also be called surveillance and detection. This process gathers and analyzes information to prevent a food defense incident from happening in the first place. For example, public health agencies monitor food for contamination and put out import alerts, while monitoring at a facility level involves checking the facility, equipment, product quality, and mitigation strategies according to a risk-based food defense plan.

Investigation and Apprehension

Investigation and apprehension are the activities that take place during and after an incident to determine the cause and apprehend the perpetrator. Public health investigations and criminal investigations must coordinate during a food defense incident. Public health professionals will perform an epidemiological investigation to identify the causative agent of illnesses, determine if the food has been adulterated, and provide public health guidance to consumers.

In the case of intentional adulteration, a crime or act of terror has been committed. This is why law enforcement has an important role in food defense as criminal investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator will occur.


The final necessary role for food defense is prosecution. In court, someone accused of breaking the law and committing a food defense crime faces trial and, if necessary, punishment.


The challenge of food defense requires coordinated efforts by many professionals. The better these professionals can understand, anticipate, and coordinate efforts with one another, the stronger the global food system will be to prevent and manage threats to intentional adulteration. To learn more about food defense roles, food defense plans, and intentional adulteration, consider Zosi’s food defense course library developed with the experts at the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI).

Subscribe to Insider Insights

Zosi needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy.

Newsletter Icon Never Miss an Update. Sign Up for Zosi’s e-Newsletter.