Monday, February 24, 2020

Preventing Food Contamination: Who Has the Keys?

Ice cream factory tankManagers in the food production and processing industry already understand the importance of preventing contamination. It's not simply a case of complying with federal and international regulations. Even one injury or illness that's traced back to one of your facilities can have a long-lasting impact on your business.

There are, of course, the financial implications of having a facility shut down for extensive cleaning and repairs, or the variety of legal settlements and court cases. It could also take years for a brand to recover from the loss of public trust after a recall or other incident.

That's why it is imperative for food production facilities to operate at peak safety performance at all times and to take all reasonable steps to prevent contamination — incidental or not. Especially the not.

Whether it's perpetrated by a disgruntled employee or a foreign terrorist, intentional adulteration is a real and terrifying concern in the food industry. Government regulations are leading businesses to beef up their security as plants put locks on tanks, install more surveillance, and invest in security training.

However, one area that many in the industry might be forgetting is how these extra locks and keys are being handled. Locking up an easily accessible liquid tank is a great step, but who holds the keys? How many copies of that key are floating around your facility? Do you know when the tank was accessed? And who did so?

Here are some ways an electronic key control system can help you make your facility more secure and mitigate the risk of intentional adulteration.

Controlling Access to Sensitive Assets


Access control is the front line — and sometimes the last defense — of security for your entire facility. A gate manned by a guard, an exterior door unlocked by a key, or a storage tank secured with a padlock are all examples of controlled access. However, many businesses fall for the dangerous mindset that once somebody is inside the facility, that person must belong there and whatever they're doing is acceptable. Of course that's not always true.

Vendors and other approved guests might have basic access to a facility, but that doesn't mean they should have complete freedom. Likewise, not all employees inside the building need unrestricted access. A custodian shouldn't be able to open a locked food storage bin, for example.

That's why it's important to take your basic physical defense measures, like security gates and locked doors, a step further by controlling who has access to keys. When granting user permissions in an electronic key control system, only employees who need access to certain keys to perform their jobs should be authorized to use such keys. If the system locks keys down individually, employees who use the system can't take keys they're not supposed to have. This better controls access to sensitive areas and prevents inappropriate key use.

Holding Employees Accountable


Brewmaster checks tanks in a breweryDespite all your best efforts, mistakes happen. In fact, human error is often cited as a cause of all sorts of business headaches — data breaches, damaged equipment, and even food recalls. Even when somebody is doing their best, trying to make sure your company is performing at peak efficiency and meeting federal regulations, a key can still be misplaced.

The important thing is how you react to a missing key, if you know to react at all. Replacing a padlock might be inexpensive, but what if that key lands in the hands of somebody who isn't supposed to have access and is predisposed to abuse that access? How long would it take you to be aware the key is even missing? Your electronic key control system should have alerts when keys aren't returned so you can react quickly and prevent potential problems.

This also lets employees know they'll be held accountable for what happens to keys they're responsible for. If they know management will be alerted if a key isn't returned, they're more likely to be a good steward of their access and not simply grab an unused copy of a key from a pegboard. Misplaced keys are a thing of the past when every access point is automatically logged and securely backed up.

Protecting Against Insider Threats


You might not be aware you have a disgruntled employee until it's too late, which is why it's important to minimize access to items that can be easily adulterated. This is especially true for employees who were recently terminated or resigned. An employee who left on good terms but still has access to the facility is a potential threat.

Be sure you remove secure access rights from former employees as soon as possible after their termination or resignation. Whether they have access to physical keys or electronic key cards, they should be unable to reach secure areas or tanks without an escort. Any keys they're carrying should be returned to an electronic key control system immediately and their login credentials revoked.

Whatever method you take for securing your food processing facility's keys, be sure you commit to the process and actually hold employees accountable for how it's used. Enforce new rules consistently and continually, otherwise you leave your company at risk of intentional adulteration.

For more information on protecting your business, check out our eBook 5 Steps to Make Your Facility More Secure.