Analyzing a Bioterror Attack on the Food Supply: The Case of Botulinum Toxin in Milk

We developed a mathematical model of a cows-to-consumers supply chain associated with a single milk-processing facility that is the victim of a deliberate release of botulinum toxin. Because centralized storage and processing lead to substantial dilution of the toxin, a minimum amount of toxin is required for the release to do damage. Irreducible uncertainties regarding the dose-response curve prevent us from quantifying the minimum effective release. However, if terrorists can obtain enough toxin, and this may well be possible, then rapid distribution and consumption result in several hundred thousand poisoned individuals if detection from early symptomatics is not timely. Timely and specific in-process testing has the potential to eliminate the threat of this scenario at a cost of less than 1 cent per gallon and should be pursued aggressively. Investigation of improving the toxin inactivation rate of heat pasteurization without sacrificing taste or nutrition is warranted.