WASHINGTON (AP) _ Companies that ship meat, poultry and eggs should tighten security in places where terrorists would be likely to tamper with food, according to new guidelines by the Agriculture Department.
The guidelines issued Monday are voluntary, but department officials said meatpackers, shipping companies, retailers and other distributors have a vested interest in making sure food is safe for consumers.
``These guidelines will further enhance the safety and security of meat, poultry and egg products throughout the food distribution chain,'' said Garry L. McKee, administrator of the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Under the recommendations, companies are asked to check for vulnerable spots in the shipping where terrorists could poison food with harmful bacteria or chemicals. Companies should make security improvements like providing workers with additional training and increasing oversight of trucks, ships and airplanes carrying food, department officials said.
They noted that terrorists are most likely to sabotage hamburger, chicken or other meat and poultry products as they are loaded and unloaded from freight trains or trucks. Those are moments when workers should closely monitor the shipments, the department said.
The department also recommended:
_Truckers and other workers should be trained to deal with intentional and unintentional contamination of the food they are hauling.
_Those who are hauling meat products should routinely check their loads to ensure they haven't been tainted and that the food is kept at the proper temperature.
_Processors should make sure the company shipping their product has a security program to protect the food.
_Shippers also should check the seals on the doors of boats, planes and trucks carrying meat, poultry and eggs, to ensure that no one has broken in.
The department said in a Federal Register notice that it is seeking comments before it considers issuing the guidelines as requirements.
The Agriculture Department is charged with ensuring that meat, poultry and eggs are safe. Some other foods, like cheese, are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA is writing rules that will require food processors to register all of their imported products with the government, keeping track of every crumb from the time it is manufactured until it arrives in the United States. Companies also would have to notify regulators about shipments before they arrive at U.S. ports.
The FDA rules are slated to go into effect by December.