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Vulnerability assessment instructions

Vulnerability assessment for your operation is extremely important because it contributes to protecting our nation’s food supply from intentional contamination. Vulnerable areas are those that are accessible to someone wanting to cause intentional contamination to harm your business, to make a statement for a cause, or to cause chaos in the food supply chain among other things. To find vulnerabilities in your operation, you are going to have to think like a disgruntled worker, member of a political group or someone wanting to cause harm or disruption. Look for areas where contamination would be easily spread by normal operations. For example, feed or ingredient mixers are places in an operation where a contaminant could be easily added and then mixed to distribute the contaminant. Contaminants that are attractive for use tend to have incubation periods that delay the effect, are easy to obtain and have a history of prior use. Areas that are not visible to employees, areas where access is not limited and critical areas that are not locked are more vulnerable to contamination. The following are areas to consider:

  • People
    Those who spend time within your operation such as workers, family members delivery people, contract cleaners and visitors
  • Processes and Procedures
    How things are done within the operation such as food processing, livestock handling, receiving shipments, marketing, etc.
  • Facility
    Physical aspects of your operation such as buildings, doors, windows, vents, fences, gates, cameras, lights

Get a team together to assess the vulnerabilities of your operation. The team should be made up of the owner or manager and other key personnel or family members who are familiar with most aspects of the operation. University extension personnel and/ or a member of the law enforcement community can also be included in the team. To start assessing vulnerabilities for your operation you will want to look at the following:

  • A labeled map of the facility
  • Any written operational procedures such as HACCP, SOP, GMP, BMP, BQA, PQA etc.
  • Any procedures related to your workforce

The team should use a worksheet like the one below to begin the vulnerability assessment. The team should consider all of the listed elements for each of the nine basic security questions on the vulnerability assessment worksheet. Answer the question “No” if any of the elements is not secure. Circle the elements that are not secure.

  1. Is your outside perimeter secure?
    Consider fencing, gates, locks, lighting, cameras, exterior doors, and signage.
  2. Is access within your operation limited?
    Considerdoors, windows, vents, signage, and visitor log.
  3. Are your processes or procedures secure?
    Consider all your procedures, machines, feeding, production lines, visitor supervision, supplier food defense plans and marketing channels.
  4. Is your shipping and receiving system secure?
    Consider loading area and procedures, unloading area and procedures, liability determined in shipping documents.
  5. Do you have an inventory system for stored materials?
    Consider everything you have in storage including feed, raw materials, packaging, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
  6. Is access to your water supply limited?
    Consider water source, inside water lines, livestock water system.
  7. Is mail opened away from sensitive areas?
    Is it opened in a confined area, away from production?
  8. Do you have screening and training procedures for your workforce?
    Consider reference check, background check, credit check, and security training.
  9. Is access to sensitive areas limited?
    Consider storage, livestock, processing, packaging, feed, chemicals, maintenance.

The worksheet below shows some typical answers to the basic questions.

Completed by ____________________________________________ Date _______________
Vulnerability questions Yes No N/A
1. Is your outside perimeter secure?   X  
2. Is access within your operation limited?   X  
3. Are your processes or procedures secure?   X  
4. Is your shipping and receiving system secure? X    
5. Do you have an inventory system for stored materials?   X  
6. Is access to your water supply limited?   X  
7. Is mail opened away from sensitive areas? X    
8. Do you have screening and training procedures for your workforce?   X  
9. Is access to sensitive areas limited?   X  

Those questions to which you answered “Yes” or ”Not Applicable” are not considered to be a problem and do not need to be addressed in the food defense plan. Those to which you answered “No” will need to be considered in writing your food defense plan.

There are many different sources of supplemental information that can help the team consider all of the important areas of your operation. The most helpful are three guides put out by different governmental regulatory agencies. These guides offer specific guidance for meat and poultry processing plants, livestock operations and food producers and processors. These guides can be found in appendix 3 at the back of your training manual. The following are included:

  • USDA/Food Safety and Inspection Service – Developing a Food Defense Plan for Meat and Poultry Slaughter and Processing Plants
  • USDA – Pre-harvest Security Guide
  • Food and Drug Administration – Guidance for Industry, Food Producers, processers, and Transporters: Food Security Preventative Measures Guidance