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Illustration by Security Management

Food Tampering Cases Illustrate Classic Insider Threat Risks

Stories of candy tampering always accompany the U.S. Halloween season, though they are mostly false. Actual food tampering is rare, but the idea of it is scary, so when it happens, it tends to make news.

In Maine, a customer found razor blades in a batch of Portland Pie brand pizza dough purchased from the Saco Hannaford Supermarket. Security camera footage showed a man tampering with the products in the store. Nicholas Mitchell, a former employee of the company that makes the dough, was later arrested and charged for his alleged role in the incident.

According to the January 2020 Security Management article “Food Defense and the Insider Threat” by James T. Summers and Fran Pisciotta, if Mitchell is found guilty, it will be an example of what the article labels a Type III incident, where “a current or past employee who attacks or threatens other employees in the workplace. This could spill over into product contamination if an employee attempts to adulterate a product to create problems for a coworker or supervisor, if the employee is irate over compensation, or if the employee seeks revenge against the company by harming the brand.”

The problem is not confined to the United States, however. On Monday, Nigel Wright was sentenced to 14 years in prison in the United Kingdom. Wright laced baby food jars with metal shards and attempted to blackmail Tesco, one of the largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom, for $1.8 million in Bitcoin. Customers discovered the tainted jars, resulting in a recall of 42,000 jars of Heinz baby food. There were no reported injuries from the tampered food.

The case actually combines two of the insider threat types described by Summers and Pisciotta. Type I involves criminal motivations, such as extortion and economic motives. Type II involves people who have some kind of relationship with the business. In this case, Wright, a sheep farmer, said his motivation was to protest the low price farmers are paid for milk.

For those keeping score, Summers and Pisciotta go on to describe two other insider threat types to the food supply. One is a domestic dispute in which an estranged loved one may try to harm someone by harming the company he or she works for. The other is violence directed at an organization for political, religious, or similar reasons.

For more on protecting the food supply, read Pisciotta’s previous article on the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act.