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Food Defense Checklist: Protect Consumers From Food Adulteration

Use checklists to keep a constant eye on food defense in order to ensure maximum quality and the health and safety of consumers. Learn how to perform food defense audits with a checklist and reap the benefits immediately.

What Is A Food Inspection Checklist?

Food terrorism uses food products to cause wide-scale harm to public health. It might be a rare occurrence, but should it happen, it could disrupt food supply, cause illness in consumers and might even lead to death. Your organization must, therefore, have mitigation strategies in place against food terrorism.

A food defense checklist, based on the USDA food defense self assessment, for example, can support you in making your products as safe as possible. It is an effective tool to prevent deliberate and intentional contamination of food products.

Food safety inspections can identify issues of food adulteration or contamination. Being proactive about food inspection is critical to protect consumers or factories from damages. The goal of routine food defense assessments is to avoid costly recalls and food production disruptions.

Food defense audit checklists help you perform regular hygiene inspections in a structured, standardized manner so that quality standards can be maintained. Potential issues in the quality of products can be identified and eliminated without complications. This not only ensures satisfied customers, but also ensures that you comply with legal requirements of the food.

This article covers the following topics:

1. What are the benefits of a food defense plan checklist?

2. What are the elements of a food defense plan?

3. 4 steps to maximum food protection

4. A digital application for food defense audit checklists

Food Safety With Gloves

What are the benefits of a food defense plan checklist?

A USDA food defense self assessment checklist is your organization’s shield against legal issues resulting from contaminated food originating from your facility. It ensures that you are compliant with government requirements and guarantees business continuity. Failure to comply with the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) could mean sanctions or closure that could damage your business.

The FDA requires businesses to comply with the FSMA Final Rule for Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food against intentional adulteration. Under the rule, all covered facilities must have a food defense plan which must be strictly implemented.

The food defense plan is a written plan that identifies risks and vulnerabilities in food handling and preparation. Your food defense self assessment checklist must ensure that all steps in your food defense plan are effective and implemented. Said checklist must also evaluate your mitigation strategies and procedures. Self-assessment can help you perform corrective actions and ensure that the strategies are consistently applied. It can also be useful during reanalysis which is required every three years or whenever necessary, such as when you detect that mitigation strategies are improperly implemented.

Food defense is carried out by the responsible offices on a spot-check basis. External auditors conduct standardized food defense audits to verify that all necessary precautions, as well as all preventive measures for safe and hygienic products have been taken. A reliable and routine food inspection procedure through checklists is therefore highly recommended.

By using food defense audits checklists, you and your team can independently carry out the necessary inspections. This way you are aware of your food standards and food issues and you have nothing to fear in the event of random food inspection by external auditors.

What are the elements of a food defense plan?

What goes into your specific food defense plan depends on the activities of your facility. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act covers businesses that include the following activity types:

  • Bulk liquid receiving and loading
  • Liquid storage and handling
  • Secondary ingredient handling
  • Mixing and similar activities

In order to create and establish an effective food defense strategy, it is vital that you base your planning on these following 4 key elements:


The first step to developing a food defense plan is conducting a security assessment of your facility. This will help you discover the vulnerable parts of your food processing plant. Keep the results of the assessment confidential as the information could be used to create a plan for future attacks. Assess outside and inside security, as well as productive process, shipping and receiving, personnel, and storage security.


To ensure the successful implementation of your Food Defense Plan, use the FIRST rule as your guide:

  • Follow the plan and the established procedures.
  • Inspect your work area and surroundings.
  • Recognize anything out of the ordinary.
  • Secure all ingredients, supplies and finished products.
  • Tell or notify someone of something unusual or suspicious.


A mock traceability and recall exercise are two of the most common ways to test your food defense plan. Mock recalls are usually conducted every two years to make sure all food products can be tracked and traced.

Testing your food defense plan allows you to see how an intruder can penetrate your security system. It will show you how your staff will react to unauthorized individuals entering the premises or the occurrence of unusual situations and will let you know whether your staff can follow reporting procedures.


You must see to it that your food defense plan is up-to-date and effective. The FDA recommends reviewing your food defense plan once a year. But if your monitoring and surveillance reveal critical issues, you must update your food defense plan right away.

Your USDA food defense self assessment checklist would naturally depend on your food defense plan. You can assess the efficacy of your food defense plan through the methodology used by the FDA which is called CARVER+Shock. CARVER stands for the six attributes used to evaluate the attractiveness of a target for attack:

  1. Criticality
    Perpetrators are attracted to a target if attacking it creates a gigantic impact on public health and the economy. Measuring the criticality of an area will help identify where within your system an attack is most likely to occur. Finding areas with high criticality means you need to improve your food defense plan.
  2. Accessibility
    When a target is easy to access and the attacker can easily exit without being detected, you need to create better countermeasures. For example, to keep attackers from getting inside your storage room undetected, you must make access codes and passwords a requirement.
  3. Recuperability
    How long will it take for your system to recover after an attack? If it takes a while for your system to recuperate, updating your food defense plan is necessary. It must include an effective response plan to ensure a quick recovery.
  4. Vulnerability
    Vulnerability can be determined by characteristics of the target, such as the ease of introducing contaminants and the ability of the perpetrator to perform the attack without getting caught. Your USDA food defense self assessment checklist must include items that will ensure there are interventions in place that can help prevent the attack in high vulnerability areas.
  5. Effect
    Effect is the amount of loss in production from an attack. Your food defense plan must ensure that the areas where an attack could cause a massive loss in production are fully protected.
  6. Recognizability
    Recognizability is the ease of identifying a target. It is influenced by the size of the target, complexity, and distinguishing characteristics.

The factor Shock is the seventh attribute added to the original six. It assesses the combined economic, health, and psychological effects of an attack. This includes the idea that the larger the number of deaths from the attack, the greater the psychological impact. The level of shock is also greater if the target has cultural, historical, and religious significance.

CARVER+Shock is a tool that you can use to assess the vulnerabilities within your infrastructure or processes. By using the CARVER+Shock methodology in the assessment of your food production facility, you can discover the most vulnerable points in your processes and infrastructure.

Bakery Pastries

4 steps to maximum food protection

  1. Food Inspection
    In conducting food defense assessments, it is important to ensure that products and foods meet the prescribed standards. You should take samples of individual food and examine them according to the following criteria:
    • sensory (appearance, smell, taste)
    • analytical(toxic food components)
    • microbiological(pathogenic microorganisms)
  2. Production Hygiene Control
    Production hygiene is emphasized in the food defence assessment process. Food auditors check the records of incoming goods, proper storage and compliance with the cold chain. Another important pillar in production hygiene is the handling of pest control, waste management and the cleaning process in the plant.
  3. Documentation of internal processes
    In this step, the verifiable documentation of internal processes is checked. It is essential to trace where and by whom the food was produced, purchased, and processed. Evidence and invoices should be properly sorted and stored.
  4. Employee screening and personnel hygiene
    When dealing with food, training is essential to keep employees informed of all processes and keep them aware of changes and recent changes. Important components of staff training are staff hygiene, protective clothing, hygiene measures, infection control, and production procedures. Staff training should be conducted regularly and attended by the team on a mandatory basis

A digital application for food defense audit checklists

To perform regular food defense audits in the most standardized way, a digital checklist can be very helpful. Any kind of quality check can be carried out quite easily via tablet or smartphone. Step by step, all checkpoints can be answered and food monitoring is carried out reliably.

With Lumiform, you comply with the constantly increasing legal requirements for food safety documentation more easily by documenting with the mobile app via smartphone or tablet and being guided by the system through all documentation processes. Clean, transparent documentation helps you avoid hefty fines. The easiest way to do that is with a digital solution like Lumiform.

Control food safety digitally now with Lumiform:

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