In an effort to make food purchased on base even safer to eat, Madigan Army Medical Center's Environmental Health Service chose to adopt the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's voluntary food regulatory program in addition to already meeting the Tri-Service Food Code.
The service regularly inspects all dining facilities, food trucks, Army and Air Force Exchange Service vendors, and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation club system on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"If it sells food, we're inspecting them and we're inspecting them purely on food safety, so is it going to get someone sick," said Sonia Beare, an environmental protection specialist and quality management lead.
She began to search for ways to inject more systemic quality into their inspections in 2015 when Army guidelines came out asking environmental health services to adopt management internal control programs. At the same time, Beare learned of the FDA Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards with the help of FDA Retail Food Specialist David Engelskirchen, and how meeting these standards could help achieve that goal.
Since then, Beare developed a phased training plan for her team's inspectors to ensure greater uniformity in their inspections and a closer look at their inspection processes and reports. Training now includes a three-day inspection course, online training, and a pre-standardization course, and staff receive regular audits to help ensure that the inspections remain standardized.
The team also hosted three FDA training courses on base to allow the entire staff to attend with minimal costs; they opened the training to other units as well with the same military occupational specialties and gave any remaining seats to local health departments.
In fact, working with the FDA and the local departments helped Madigan's Environmental Health Service with their systemic quality achievements.
"We truly wouldn't be this far without our partnership with the Washington Department of Health and our Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department," said Beare.
She also credited leadership for their vision and support in adopting the FDA voluntary standards.
"They see the potential; they see where we're going; they want to see improvement," said Beare.
The chief of environmental health, Lt. Col. Ronald Havard, highlighted the success of the new training.
"The biggest thing coming out of the FDA standardization is that repeatability for the training program," said Havard, who added that he expects the increased focus on quality in food inspections to trickle over to other areas. The service also plans to align their inspectors with the same facilities each time to offer improved customer service and build relationships to help improve overall quality.
In addition, the program is helping the service to become a high reliability organization.
"If you truly want a highly reliable workforce, then you need to insert quality within every aspect of your service or department," said Beare. "The quality is not only in our inspections, but even the way we talk to our customers, the way we train our customers. Every aspect of our job, you can insert quality."
While Madigan was the first Army unit to adopt the FDA standards, Fort Campbell, Ky., also is on that path. Beare hopes that every environmental health service in the U.S. Army Medical Command follows suit.
"My goal is not only to fully develop this program here, but to assist all other environmental health (units) throughout MEDCOM," said Beare. "I really truly believe in this program."