FSMA has celebrated its 10th birthday since President Obama signed it into law on January 4, 2011. While architectural and engineering/construction firms (A&E/Cs) say most food and beverage processor clients have FSMA pretty much under wraps, COVID-19 has re-affirmed the need for specific design changes in food plants to help prevent the spread of the virus. At the same time, processors are also re-evaluating their facilities’ security readiness to protect both food and people from harm.

When FSMA was adopted in 2011, there was a shift of focus in food safety from reporting failures to proactive prevention of incidents through robust food safety systems, says Jason Robertson, CRB vice president, food + beverage. “The food industry is adapting to the current times and food safety regulation updates. With the advent of COVID-19, the rate of adaption has accelerated.”

Manufacturers and A&E/C firms alike now incorporate FSMA into design and operations without second thought or confusion, says David Ziskind, Black & Veatch director of engineering. Still, it is important not to become complacent—for example, there is interest now in technologies that allow for continual sampling as opposed to manual scheduled swabbing for pathogens. 

Today, food industry people have a full understanding of FSMA, but they may not yet be at the level where they have set their goals, says Greg Marconnet, Mead & Hunt VP. However, food security was a concern before the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the recent social unrest, it continues to be an issue that processors manage on a day-to-day basis. During the last year employee turnover seems to have increased, making processes and plant designs more critical to enable food security, adds Marconnet.

Physical security protects people from themselves and coronavirus

A Google search for “shootings at food plants” reveals that in many cases manufacturers have done their homework in making facilities more secure, as some shootings now occur in parking lots exterior to the building, rather than from within the facility—because the shooter fails to gain entry to the building, due to improved screening procedures. So today, facilities need to be designed with food security and physical security in mind, keeping food and people safe from potential harm.

From a security standpoint, secure vestibules and waiting areas for plant entry with no receptionist are being employed, says Stewart Jernigan, preconstruction director at A M King. Visitors are signing in digitally via terminals and communicating with plant staff via monitors and other remote methods. “To protect plant staff from potential infectious disease, we find success with trucker isolation, using controlled access to the truckers’ lounge, restrooms and showers with pass-through windows to the office for paperwork,” Jernigan adds. “Access by visitors and truckers to the facility itself is controlled strictly by the plant team.”

“With the current political, social and economic climate, many of our clients continue to take measures regarding facility design to improve food safety and security above and beyond the requirements of FSMA,” says Alex Garland, Burns & McDonnell project manager. In addition, facility security and cybersecurity are paramount focal areas within the owners’ organizations, oftentimes staffed with dedicated taskforce teams. Finally, there is an increasing emphasis on facility design measures, such as key card access to specific areas of a facility, security checkpoints, controlled entry and exits (now with temperature monitoring to protect from COVID-19), camera systems, and automated contact tracing systems to protect both food as well as staff.

Single-point entry was already a feature of many food plants prior to the pandemic to control secure access to a facility, but many entrances have been adjusted to accommodate thermal imaging or temperature scanning and to meter the flow of people entering the building, allowing proper spacing,” says Mary Frances Stotler, Dennis Group senior partner. These are likely safety measures that will remain in place long after COVID-19 is under control. Common spaces, break areas, and workstations are all spaces that are being evaluated and reconfigured to promote more distance between workers as well as to control the flow of personnel.

 “We have seen some adjustments and redesign to meet new expectations post COVID, like retrofitting facilities with more sinks, larger locker rooms, partitions between stations that are cleanable, etc., helping protect the integrity of the end product from unloading through production,” says David Mills, Clayco VP of engineering.

Technology and physical security working together

This year, a lot of food processors employed wearable technology as an extra security layer, says Stotler. For example, RFID tags keep an electronic log of where employees are in a plant, and who they have been in contact with. Tag-to-tag communication can be used to alert employees when they are too close to another individual. Data collection beyond wearable devices is also a continuing trend. Reliable, resilient Wi-Fi enabled network infrastructure that puts real-time data at the fingertips of employees on the plant floor can assist with visualization, alarm and event monitoring, downtime, and manufacturing KPI tracking, as well as asset management, change management, and access control data—all without employees crowding together around a single plant monitor and potentially spreading a virus.

“For security purposes, technology has provided a variety of options to keep food, people, and facilities safe via a combination of video and physical validation,” says Tyler Cundiff, president, Gray, Inc., Food & Beverage Market. Utilization of cameras in conjunction with well-planned security access and control measures can provide an opportunity for dual confirmation. 

For the facility itself, video cameras in conjunction with proximity-activated sensors provide the best validation protection for a facility, adds Cundiff. These are not preventive measures, but rather those that activate after a violation of standard operating practices.

Defending the perimeter

Keeping track of who is coming and going can involve different levels of security. For example, Ron Stewart P.E., Shambaugh & Son program manager, National Food Group, says that some food facilities may be part of an established industrial complex with a guard shack who’s guard requires names and phone numbers of people expected on site plus copies of drivers’ licenses.

Overall site security has become an important element in the design of new facilities, including exterior fencing, controlled access in and out of the facility, increased lighting and the use of cameras to monitor employees, says David Watson, engineering SME at The Austin Company.

Besides additional exterior fencing, security design measures also include the location of a welcome center or guard shack inside the fence, outfitted with expensive security electronics, says Ed Gerken, PMP, senior project manager at SSOE. Sometimes forgotten in facility design, the guard shack should have its own restroom so the guard can always remain in the shack.

Finally, if a food company is located near or within a city where political unrest may be a concern, one solution is relocating to a less crowded location. As Gregory Franzen, LEED AP, Faithful+Gould director/agrifood, says, most of his project locations are remote and not in highly populated areas where violence might occur.