STRONG OFFENSE FOR VITAL FOOD DEFENSE
In the United States, the possibility of using food contamination as a form of terrorism
became a major concern after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in
New York. If buildings were vulnerable to attack, what about the nation’s food supply?
Like many other aspects of our lives,
food can be considered a sign of the
times. Consider the evolution of the TV
dinner from an aluminum tray baked
in an oven to the flash frozen, ready-in-minutes microwaveable meal of today.
As food has evolved, our food vocabulary has also grown, with foodie, comfort
food and molecular gastronomy among
the list of newer terms. Unfortunately,
another new term that is a sign of the
times has surfaced, and food scientists
and consumers worldwide are
becoming more familiar with
it. Food defense describes the
prevention or mitigation of a deliberate attempt to contaminate
food in order to cause harm.
Food defense is a huge public
health concern because everyone
consumes food, the majority of
which is produced and processed
outside of the consumer’s control. Fortunately, consumers have Dr. Ted Labuza
and his team of researchers on their side.
he took a job running MIT’s Cobalt 60
nuclear reactor, which was being used by
U.S. Army and Navy scientists investigating ways to sterilize food for military use.
While running the reactor for these military
food specialists, Labuza spent time talking
with them about the work they did, and he
became very interested in the way food was
developed for the military. As a result, he
changed his major from physics and obtained
an undergraduate degree in food science and
engineering. He later went on to get his Ph.D.
A Focus on Food Defense
Dr. Labuza then moved to the University of Minnesota where he studied how
temperature and water activity affect
the shelf life of foods before becoming
involved in food defense. In the United
States, the possibility of using food
contamination as a form of terrorism
became a major concern after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade
Center in New York. If buildings were
vulnerable to attack, what about
the nation’s food supply? Clearly,
food might be a target for terrorist groups—and the public health
outcomes could be catastrophic.
Dr. Theodore Labuza is a Morse Alumni
Distinguished Teaching Professor of
Food Science and Engineering at the
University of Minnesota in Saint Paul,
Dr. Labuza, a professor of food science at the
University of Minnesota, became interested
in this field as an undergraduate physics
student at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT). To help pay his tuition,
at MIT while studying the development of
foods for astronauts as humankind ventured
into space. A newly-appointed professor at
MIT, he turned his attention to determin-
ing the shelf life of specialized foods for the
military and early space program; specifically,
determining which foods were best for those
serving in demanding environments such as
arctic areas, deserts, and in a space capsule on
the way to the moon.
The U.S. Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) called for proposals to address this concern and Dr.
Labuza responded. He and others
at the University of Minnesota,
as well as scientists from other institutions, established the National Center
for Food Protection and Defense, with a
goal of reducing the vulnerability of the
nation’s food supply. The group developed criteria to determine which foods
present the greatest risk, and milk was
one product that made the list.
P4;Food Safety INSIDER