Restaurants are a weak link in the food safety chain

Published 20 October 2008

The Congressional Research Service issues a major study of agroterrorism; one problem is that public eating places are exceedingly vulnerable to bioterror attack

The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a major paper on agroterrorism. The CRS defined agroterrorism as a subset of bioterrorism in which diseases are introduced into the food supply for the purpose of creating mass fear, physical harm or death, and economic loss. Peter Tarlow writes in 4Hoteliers that in today’s global economy tourism entities import foods from around the world, which means that an agroterrorism attack on one continent can destroy a tourism industry on another continent. “In fact, food safety and tourism security have been linked for many decades,” he writes. Even superficial study of the food industry reveals that it vulnerable on almost all levels. “From processing until delivery to the table, food for human and animal consumption goes through a number of hands, machines and processes.”

One of the weakest links is restaurants, and they and other eating establishments can be targeted for a number of reasons. Tarlow lists just a few:

  • Most restaurant owners do not know their patrons, thus as public places, restaurants provide easy access and exits
  • Most restaurants in tourism areas have no idea where their clients are after they have left their premises. This lack of information means that it is difficult to track down what food poisoning
  • Restaurants rarely keep records as to where participants live or how many came in a party
  • Restaurants sell good times and therefore vigilance is low
  • Most restaurants can easily be penetrated. Often back and side doors are left open and waiters and waitresses, working for tips, may not challenge a customer out of fear of losing income
  • Tourism depends on a safe and reliable food supply. Tourists and visitors cannot often go to local markets to buy food supplies and usually need to depend on restaurants or other public places to purchase food