Your burger could be the next big terrorist target

Since September 11th, 2001, the US has been understandably obsessed with preventing another type of terrorist attack. But what we may have failed to realize is that while the government is shelling out $16 billion a year on anti-terrorism efforts, they’ve allocated a paltry $1 billion to secure our food supply. To put this in some perspective: An estimated 36,000 Americans have died of food-borne pathogens since 2001, compared to 323 deaths as a result of terrorist activities. In 2004, when (then) Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson resigned from his position, he expressed concern that the United States wasn’t doing nearly enough to protect our food.

“I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do,” he said at the time, calling his agency’s inspections of the US food supply “minute.” You’d think that the head of HHS proclaiming the ease with which terrorists could seriously mess with our massively complex food chain would set off some alarm bells, but nothing much changed until recently…

Predicting terror attacks is not the kind of business I’d like to be in, but part of the thought process in the field is determining every possible scenario where something can go wrong, and then mapping out the likelihood that each one will. According to the FDA, there are four main points in the food production chain where things could go very, very wrong if someone wanted them to: The receiving and loading of bulk liquids, liquid storage and handling, secondary ingredient handling (when ingredients other than the main one are manipulated before being combined with the main one), and really any kind of mixing or blending in general. If you close your eyes and picture your average grocery store, you’ll realize very quickly that most of the food in there is actually processed—mixed, blended, or made in bulk. Based on these FDA criteria, someone could easily be messing with your Cheerios or apple juice at one of several points in the ever-complicated mess that is our food supply chain. And you would have no way of knowing it until you took a bite.

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