FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The Department of Veterinary Science, in conjunction with the Department of Defense Veterinary Food Analysis and Diagnostic Laboratory launched the Surveillance Food Laboratory Manager Course Nov. 16.

In development for more than two years, the week-long course intended for Veterinary Corps officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians, teaches laboratory managers how to oversee food testing laboratories and unit-level laboratory programs to make sure the laboratories are established and testing results support worldwide veterinary missions.

Eighteen Soldiers and one civilian took part in the pilot course.

"Lt. Col. Hanfelt's concept for the course was to push surveillance food testing right down to the front-line Soldier; into places where it is hard for big reference labs to reach," said Maj. Alisa Wilma, deputy director, FADL. "It can be difficult to get samples out of places like the Balkans and Iraq."

"We are able to push testing out to the local level, to do screening testing on different installations for food safety," said Col. Peggy Carter, director, FADL.

"That's a big advantage because it spreads the food surveillance net farther down to the grass-roots level."

Surveillance Food Laboratories allow unit commanders to enhance food and water safety and enable a faster response to detect food-borne illnesses in the field.

The SFL program was built with the idea that a lab can be set up almost anywhere as long as there is a sink to wash hands and electricity for a refrigerator.

Members of the Veterinary Service tested the theory setting up a food surveillance lab in a hotel room in support of a Department of the Army special event, testing food samples and water for risk assessments.

Students learn to set up a food surveillance lab, lab maintenance, proficiency testing, oversight of tests conducted, reviewing and reporting of results, risk communication, determining products of concern for testing.

"This course teaches the students how to walk into the lab, look through the paperwork, look at the set-up and say 'yes' this number is good," said Wilma.

"The idea was to push the basics down to the Soldiers on the ground so they can do surveillance that allows them to find food safety and defense issues before they occur to prevent food-borne illness," added Lt. Col. Margery Hanfelt, senior laboratory trainer, DVS.

At the end of the week-long course there was a final practical exercise Nov. 20 which took about six hours to complete.

The students took a written exam; designed a mock surveillance food laboratory on paper, using a diagram and a list of equipment; and evaluated mock worksheets and testing results to identify errors in the recorded results. They also conducted a surveillance laboratory audit and completed a situation scenario station.

"They're (laboratory managers) going to be the ones overseeing the final testing results coming out of the surveillance labs; doing the final screenings to make sure that the technicians are set-up as far as testing the food and water to ensure that everything sent out is valid and safe," said Staci Mitchell, project officer, AMEDDC&S.

The students receive a graduation certificate upon completion of the course; if the student scores 90 percent or above they also receive a certification as Surveillance Food Laboratory Managers. For this course, 18 of the 19 students passed the course, and 14 were officially certified as Surveillance Food Laboratory Managers.

A two-week Surveillance Food Laboratory Technicians Course will be offered in the spring.

The technician's course will primarily teach students testing methodologies as well as lab maintenance. During the first week students will be trained on laboratory equipment, sterilization and maintenance.

During the second week, students will be handed a box of samples; be expected to check the samples in and run all tests necessary to assess the samples for indicators of food safety and wholesomeness.

At the end of the week, students turn in all forms to the mock manager, make a presentation on what they have found and identify whether they think there is a risk present.

"Based on how well they do, and whether they find what they are supposed to find, they get a training certificate or not," said Wilma.

In addition, to be certified as Surveillance Food Laboratory Technicians, they must also pass a proficiency test provided by the FADL once they are back at their unit laboratory.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16