As we put the finishing touches on this latest issue of Food Engineering, the first cruise missiles were being dropped on Iraq, America’s security level was at code orange, and the USDA was announcing efforts to step up actions to protect the nation’s food and agriculture systems as well as USDA employees and facilities.

In order to improve coordination and response mechanisms, USDA has hired 20 new Import Surveillance Liaison (ISL) inspectors, specifically focused on food security. These workers will be deployed at strategic points of entry to re-inspect imported meat and poultry products.

According to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, the USDA has strengthened its network of accredited laboratories for detection, identification and diagnosis and increased research programs related to various biological agents and technology that could be used for early detection. In addition the agency has provided security guidelines for producers, processors and food providers in order to strengthen systems at the local level.

Possibly like many Americans, I had not paid full attention to terrorism activities around the world before September 11 or Oklahoma City. More recently, I didn’t go out and buy duct tape and extra supplies of food to keep at home. But today, for the food industry and the average American, the term “food safety” is taking on a much different and deeper meaning.

But life goes on in America. USDA is now inaugurating a nationwide tour to educate and reinforce to consumers the importance of handling food safely. The USDA Food Safety Mobile will tour communities across the country in an effort to educate consumers and to reduce foodborne illness.

The recreational-style vehicle will display food safety messages that proclaim the four critical steps consumers must take to keep their food safe: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

The traveling show is a great idea and a big help to getting the word out about what processors have been trying to tell the public for years about food safety. I just wish the timing had been a bit better as Americans are now consumed with events in the Middle East, finding work and the state of their 401Ks.

Some have suggested that the term food itself may take on new meaning in Iraq as it did in war-torn Germany where foraging for food became a major daily occupation.

Here’s hoping we get all of this new meaning to food safety behind us very soon.