Public Health Team Ensures Safety of Food and Water

By Mr. Gino G Mattorano (Army Medicine)March 3, 2016

Staying Cool
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Gerald Fasching, a supervisory quality inspection specialist with Public Health Command Europe, checks the temperature of a shipping container arriving at Kaiserslautern Cold Storage Facility March 3. Food must be transported at specific temperatures... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Food Safety
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Gerald Fasching, a supervisory quality inspection specialist, and Spec. Keturah Branch, a veterinary food inspection specialist, perform a spot check on food arriving at the Kaiserslautern Cold Storage Facility March 3. Spot checks ensure that food i... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Food audit
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Chief Warrant Officer 4 Abida Shoyeb and CW4 Oscar Carrion performed a commercial sanitary audit in support of AFRICOM operations in Africa recently. Inspections of commercial facilities ensure the safety of food and water sources for military, civi... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Safe food and drinking water are luxuries most of us take for granted, but they wouldn't be possible without the Army Public Health Command Europe's food inspection program.

From the safety and defense of food, to commercial audits of bottled water and food sources, keeping Soldiers and their families healthy and nourished is a key component of Soldier readiness.

PHCE is responsible for food and water safety both in garrison and for a variety of missions in Europe and Africa. It also includes food vulnerability assessments for special events, garrison water safety monitoring, and epidemiologic investigations of suspected foodborne illness outbreaks affecting Department of Defense personnel.

PHCE is divided into two districts -- one covers Northern Europe and the other covers Southern Europe. Both districts have the same capabilities, but different areas of responsibility and focus areas.

Historically, the PHCE food inspection program's area of responsibility has included most of Western Europe, as well as Greece and Turkey. Over time, that responsibility has expanded to include countries in Eastern Europe and Africa as well.

"Our mission has expanded by 25 percent in Eastern Europe," said Maj. Greg Reppas, Public Health Command District-Southern Europe deputy commander. "We support three new camps and Operation Atlantic Resolve, in addition to supporting a variety of U.S. Central Command operations."

To compensate for the increased demand, Reppas says that they've recently opened a new food and water supply facility in the region that has shortened the supply line to U.S. Central Command bases by more than seven days, on average.

"This ensures that our deployed military forces can focus on the mission without having to worry about the safety and security of their food," Reppas said.

In addition, over the last three years, PHCE's support of U.S. Africa Command exercises, Operation United Assistance and U.S. Transportation Command flights has expanded to include more than 10 countries.

PHCE supports events and exercises in the European and African theaters by providing food and water risk assessments to help mitigate risks assumed by the commanders who are responsible for the training events.

"We ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to prevent contamination of food by terrorists or any other type of sabotage or intentional act to contaminate food," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Oscar Carrion, a senior food safety officer with PHCD-SE. "We work closely with anti-terrorism personnel to ensure that food and water sources are safe for our Soldiers."

At the home station, a key piece of the Public Health mission is food and water safety. PHCE is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of food and water sources sold in commissaries, food service facilities like military dining facilities, and even Army Air Force Exchange Service establishments.

This includes inspections and education that covers everything from proper food storage, how to prevent cross contamination of foods during preparation, proper cooking temperatures, clean up and disinfection, and even hand washing.

"Outside of the Continental United States, we have to ensure that the food and water that comes from production facilities in the local area is produced and manufactured to the same standards we have in the United States," said Maj. Suzanne Todd, Public Health Command District-Northern Europe deputy commander. "We pay particular attention to potentially hazardous food items like fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, mushrooms and dairy products."

Since much of the dairy products sold in commissaries are purchased from regional vendors, PHCE inspectors are responsible for inspecting those facilities as well, and receive specialized training to be able to ensure the safety of dairy products that are sold in commissaries.

"People would be surprised to know just how technically complex the dairy manufacturing process is," Todd said. "Our dairy inspectors receive extensive training to recognize proper hygiene and pasteurization processes in dairies, so that they can ensure those products meet U.S. dairy standards."

PHCE also provides safety inspections for the regional food distribution facilities like the Gruenstadt Depot in Germany, which produces baked goods for commissaries and AAFES facilities, and also houses the Culligan drinking water plant. They also perform inspections at the Kaiserslautern Cold Storage Facility, which houses frozen and cold foods shipped from the United States.

PHCE's food safety and defense mission is conducted by Army veterinarians, warrant officers, veterinary food inspection specialists, as well as Army civilians and local nationals.

"Food is such a huge morale factor. When you have it, all is well, but when you don't, people aren't happy," Reppas said. "Our folks work hard to ensure that Soldiers and their families don't have to think about the safety of their food and water."