What is the N.C. Food Safety and Defense Task Force?

The Task Force is a multi-agency, multi-stakeholder partnership designed to improve the protection of the food supply in North Carolina. The Task Force is comprised of members with relevant expertise drawn from the ranks of academia, private industry, state and local government agencies, the law enforcement community, and technical professionals. The Task Force is chaired jointly by the Commissioner of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services through their various designees.

How is the Task Force Organized?

The Task Force was re-established through 2013 by Executive Order Number 38, signed by Governor Beverly Perdue in late 2009. The Task Force is chaired jointly by the Commissioner of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services through their various designees. The Task Force as a whole meets bi-monthly for a total of 6 times annually, and committees have been established that meet as needed to complete the work requested by the body as a whole. Much of the work of the Task Force is accomplished through the efforts of the committees.

What is the purpose of the Task Force?

The duties of the Task Force, as specified within Executive Order Number 38, are as follows:

  • Partner with state and federal agencies to conduct focused studies of the vulnerability of the State's food system to criminal and terrorist acts, and make recommendations regarding the following issues:
    • improving safety and security of the food supply system
    • reducing terrorism threat measures
    • improving food safety and defense mitigation and response plans
    • implementing or coordinating training for key stakeholders in the State's food supply system
  • Recommend legislation needed to improve the ability of State departments and agencies to protect the safety and defense of the State's food supply and the agricultural industry base, including legislation to protect sensitive and proprietary information of the State's food supply system, safety and defense vulnerability information, and defense plans that, if compromised, would heighten the exposure of the State's food supply system to criminal or terrorist acts.
  • Recommend budget, staffing, and resource adjustments necessary to improve the capability of State departments and agencies to protect the safety and defense of the State's food supply system and agricultural industrial base.
  • Prepare an annual report no later than the 15th of December each year that includes any recommendations or proposals for changes in laws, rules, and programs that the Task Force determines to be appropriate to enhance food safety and defense in the State.

How is the Task Force Funded?

Funding is supplied by a renewable grant supplied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ($10,000) and by the State Office of Budget and Management (if needed).

Why is the Task Force beneficial to North Carolina?

The Task Force brings together all of the stakeholders responsible for protecting the food supply chain within our state, including local, state, and federal agencies, industry, and academia. It provides the catalyst for information sharing and collaboration by helping to remove “agency silos.” Regular meetings allow members to interact within a structured setting designed to cultivate improvements in the food safety system, such as addressing vulnerabilities, developing emergency response plans, and building the partnerships necessary for cohesive, effective collaboration.

What has the Task Force accomplished?

  • The Task Force was the key ingredient in North Carolina’s successful response to the Castleberry’s food product recall in 2007, an event that served as a “benchmark” for our state’s ability to respond to a large-scale food emergency event. The key factor in our successful response was the Task Force. By learning about the roles of other agencies and establishing the appropriate connections prior to Castleberry’s, the North Carolina’s food protection agencies were able to implement both an efficient and effective multi-agency response. Since this incident the Task Force has continued to partner with agency members in response to other food related recalls.
  • Key emergency response plans were developed and incorporated into the State Emergency Response Plan as hazard-specific appendices. The plans are the Food Emergency Response Plan (FERP), the Livestock Emergency Response Plan (LERP), and the Emergency Response Plan for Crops and Produce.
  • The North Carolina Fresh Produce Task Force was created to address the growing number of food outbreaks originating from contamination of leafy greens and other produce at the farm or en route to distribution and retail centers. The Fresh Produce Task Force has several subcommittees tasked with developing solutions for the prevention of contamination, improved traceability, and the education of farmers.
  • The Recall Enhancement Committee has promoted recall prevention and preparedness by sponsoring several seminars designed for industry. These seminars highlighted both the public health and economic costs of recalls and helped interested participants with the development of recall plans.
  • The Task Force continues to successfully coordinate actions with food protection partners in response to food emergency events. Notable responses include the PCA-related peanut product recalls in 2009, the shell egg recall in 2010, multiple foodborne illness outbreak investigations, and natural disaster events.

What will the Task Force accomplish in the next year?

In the upcoming year, the Task Force expects the committees to launch several new initiatives, including a website, an inter-state conference, and a Task Force-wide training series. The Executive Committee is committed to promoting the use of the Task Force model as an effective method in which to benefit from the synergy created by multi-stakeholder collaboration. We believe that a successful Task Force is more than the sum of its parts. To that end, the Task Force will continue to improve upon its methodology within North Carolina and seek inter-state partnerships as well. To continue to be effective in the years to come, we expect the committees to evolve and expand its mission to meet the challenges of the changing global food system, from marketplace demand to emerging threats.