Food inspection specialists focus on prevention, education
February 15, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Feb. 15, 2013) -- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Soldiers, who are employed as veterinarian food inspection specialists at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, or JBM-HH, work daily to ensure food products are safe for purchase and human consumption.
On Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, three food inspection specialists are led by Staff Sgt. Daniel Garcia-Nunez, noncommissioned officer in charge of the tenant unit, Public Health Command District, Fort Belvoir, Fort Myer Branch.
Before becoming food inspection specialists, Soldiers complete an eight-week course at the Army Medical Department Center and School, Department of Veterinary Science at the Food Safety and Defense Branch at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"We inspect at any facility on JBM-HH that sells and prepares food," said Garcia-Nunez. "This includes the commissary, the dining facility, the post exchange and Marine Corps exchange, shoppettes, Cody Child Development Center, and the clubs operated by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, as well as the Marine Club [on the Henderson Hall portion of JBM-HH]. We also conduct inspections at Marine Barracks, 8th and I in Washington, D.C., as well as inspect troop MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) and heat-and-serve rations."
The food inspection specialists assist their Air Force counterparts on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, with MRE inspection training.
"We do the exact same thing as the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], except we do it for the military. We check to ensure we get what we pay for and what is sold to us is coming from approved sources," Garcia-Nunez said. "In addition to physically inspecting food for obvious defects, inspections include checking packaging for correct labeling and expiration dates. Invoices and other paperwork are also checked for accuracy to ensure the correct quantities ordered are received. We also check temperatures for food storage."
The veterinarian food inspection specialists also respond to food recalls. Garcia-Nunez explained if food items were shipped, then recalled, his shop is responsible for contacting the various organizations so the food is segregated and returned to the vendor.
"Our inspections are based on an installation support plan, basically a list of things we provide them, for example, training, food inspections, and anything they want us to do to help them," he said.
"We ensure sanitation guidelines are met and randomly inspect potentially hazardous foods -- meat, fish, seafood, or poultry," Garcia-Nunez said. "This helps prevent and control accidental food-borne illnesses that can be caused by Salmonella, e-coli or other bacteria."
He said they do not inspect prepared food at the facilities.
"Preventive Medicine, Fort Belvoir takes care of that," he explained.
In addition to assisting in the inspection of food designed for human consumption, conducting quality assurance inspections in food-handling establishments, and conducting sanitary inspections in the facilities, Nunez-Garcia said veterinarian food inspection specialist duties also include collecting, preparing, and transmitting samples to the laboratory for testing.
Although the work these Soldiers do behind the scenes is often unnoticed, their efforts make a huge difference in the health and safety of service members and their families.