ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in U.S. poultry and meatpacking plants may have concerned some defense commissary shoppers about the continued availability of fresh meat and poultry. Veterinary health officials with the Department of Defense and Army Public Health Center who are charged with monitoring food safety and food supply for the DOD and Army say although there may be localized supply issues outside of the continental United States, there are no forecasted shortages of meat, poultry or produce.
“The Army Veterinary Service is working closely with the Defense Commissary Agency, the Defense Logistics Agency and other procurement agencies to expand the available sources of food said Army Col. Nicole Chevalier, Defense Health Agency Veterinary Service chief. “This appears to be mitigating any potential shortages.”
Chevalier says the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and major DOD procurement agencies indicate that shortages in specific commodities in retail grocery stores are a result of increased customer demand and not supply chain shortages. DOD Veterinary Services stood up an interservice operational planning team in late January to monitor food safety and supply in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many were focused on the human healthcare sector, DoD Veterinary Services was looking in another direction and focusing on potential impacts to food safety and availability.
“Our planning team put some deliberate measures and guidance in place to ensure an adequate, safe and wholesome DOD food supply remained available to beneficiaries,” said Chevalier. “The operational planning team continues to proactively monitor the situation.”
Chevalier says the major procurement agencies for the DOD are not projecting any food shortages in the supply chain for commissaries, dining facilities or exchanges.
“The availability of a plethora of sources for most critical commodities procured by DOD agencies mitigates major impacts from food plant shutdowns,” said Chevalier. “The DOD COVID-19 Food Protection sub-working group has established relationships with DOD food procurement agencies and federal stakeholders and will continue to monitor and address any potential impacts COVID-19 may have on food protection or food security for the DOD.”
“The food supplies in the commissaries are being replenished regularly,” said Chevalier. “DECA continues to fully support all commissaries impacted by this crisis and will maintain this support to ensure product availability. Patrons should buy enough food for a week at a time and avoid close contact with others (within about 6 feet) when shopping.”
In addition to ensuring food security, the AVS also closely monitors food safety and ensures compliance with all applicable federal and military requirements, including those from the Army Pubic Health Center, USDA and FDA.
“The local public health teams are working closely with commissary and other food establishment personnel to make sure the food for sale on the installation is safe for patrons,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick Lawrence, APHC food safety officer with the Food Protection and Public Health Sanitation division. “Army Veterinary Services ensure food products are procured from responsible production facilities that are knowledgeable and proficient in providing safe food. Local Army veterinary inspectors (AVI) inspect food as it arrives at commissaries to ensure it is at the correct temperature, was transported safely, and meets strict food safety requirements. Local AVI personnel inspect food storage, processing and serving areas to ensure that commissary personnel handle food properly to prevent contamination.”
Another question some patrons may have is how do they manage COVID-19 contamination risks when getting groceries from the commissary to their homes?
“The greatest risk, and one that is easy to forget about during the coronavirus pandemic, is everyday foodborne illness, caused by common germs like norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli,” said Lt. Col. Suzanne Todd, APHC chief of Food Protection and Public Health Sanitation division. “Washing your hands and cleaning food preparation surfaces prior to preparing your food, separating raw meat from other foods, refrigerating perishables, and cooking meat to the correct temperature all continue to be very important practices to keep you and your family healthy.”
Todd says there is currently no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or by food packaging, because of the poor survivability of the virus on surfaces.
“However, like any other harmful virus and bacteria, the COVID-19 virus can survive temporarily on surfaces or objects when contaminated,” said Todd. “The virus may enter the body if a person touches the contaminated surface, then afterwards touches his eyes, nose and/or mouth. For that reason, it is always important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling foods and food packaging. In addition, frequently clean touched surfaces such as cooking surfaces for further protection.”
A food safety 101 brochure can be downloaded from the APHC digital products catalog here: Food Safety 101
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and DECA have excellent websites on food safety, including food shopping during COVID-19. They can be found at:
The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.