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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Hospitals Take Closer Look at Security of Food Supply

Media coverage over the last few weeks has centered its terrorism coverage on mass transit security, but another crucial part of the metropolitan infrastructure, food suppliers that service corporations like schools and hospitals, have been rethinking security efforts for years. In 2001, Anthrax attacks through the mail were the public’s first introduction into the threat of bioterrorism attacks throughout the country. Hospitals began to formulate plans should they be confronted with the responsibility of treating thousands of people affected by a bioterrorism attack, but events in recent weeks have indicated that hospitals themselves may be potential targets. In July, two men who were arrested in Lodi, Calif., and charged with lying to a federal official indicated that supermarkets and hospitals were being considered as targets for potential terrorist attacks. The effects of a contaminated hospital food supply would have far-reaching consequences: a large portion of the medical community, including first responders, nurses and doctors, could be incapacitated. If something like this happened in conjunction with a more public terrorist attack, the effects on a city could naturally be disastrous. Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said the group has not given its members specific pointers on securing their food supply. “It’s not something that we have spent much time worrying about, it’s a bit too narrow,” said Emerson. “We don’t see somebody coming into a hospital and poisoning hospital food.” California hospitals, she added, have disaster plans in place for numerous hypothetical situations, and all take food security seriously. Dan Boyle, spokesman for Providence Health System which runs both Providence Holy Cross in West Hills and Providence St. Joseph in Burbank, says food is monitored and checked for safety constantly until it is consumed. “On our end, we have many processes and checks in place to verify that our food is safe,” said Boyle. “There are visual inspections when we receive the food from our vendor. We tend to look at food a lot. We also do temperature checks for all frozen and refrigerated foods to see that they are in the appropriate conditions. We send back any cans or cases that are dented or damaged,” he said. The hospitals’ vendors, Cisco Food and U.S. Food, some of the largest food service companies in the country, are inspected by public health departments and all of the food is purchased from inspected plants. The American Hospital Association has acknowledged that the safety of hospitals’ food is a bigger concern in recent years, and some food suppliers are developing new strategies to deal with possible contamination events. Sodexho, which provides food service programs for over 6,000 clients, 1,600 of them “hospitals like Simi Valley Hospital, has upped its food security efforts, pumping up its company intranet with relevant information and warnings and communicating to its clients the need to be more aware of unusual activities, unsecured entrances in their buildings and unauthorized people acting suspiciously. Before the terrorist attacks in 2001, especially the anthrax attack in the weeks following Sept. 11, food security was not as separate a concern from food safety as it is now. Decided that needed to be changed, Sodexho started providing more information to its unit managers about coordinating disaster response efforts with government agencies. The company also organized a simulated terrorist event with federal, state and local emergency services agencies to see how well private and public parties worked together. “We wanted to test our crisis management team, our management of security and our ability to reach outside our own business to local health departments,” said Bill Lyons, vice president of risk management of Sodexho. “We had the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security so they could participate in the exercise to see how a business would react to such an event, and we wanted to see how they would react.” Lyons said that Sodexho is in the process of developing a smaller version of the simulation for its offices around the country, like its West Coast health care division in San Diego and its regional office in Placentia. Lyons said he sees no reason that Sodexho offices could not soon be running simulations with its clients, like hospitals, around the country.

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