Community health protects against food, vector-borne diseases

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

What is Public Health? Although this section of the 6th Medical Group at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, may appear as if it only administers audiographs and physicals, it actually performs a broad spectrum of duties.

Some Airmen in Public Health focus on flight physicals, ensuring aircrew and pilots are safe to fly. Others conduct hearing tests to ensure Airmen have not suffered hearing loss from working on the flightline. Additionally, some Airmen in the office educate those new to the base and members of Hillsborough County about local health risks.

All of these jobs encompass the Public Health team, however, there’s one lone Airman responsible for the unique task of entomology and food safety at MacDill.

Staff Sgt. Cornelius Bransah, the NCO in charge of food safety and sanitation assigned to the 6th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, is a jack-of-all-trades in the areas of food safety and the study of insects. Though he serves in the public health section, he is technically considered community health since he ensures any space accessible to anyone on base remains safe.

“An average day for me primarily consists of inspecting public areas, as well as facilities that serve food on base,” said Bransah. “I mean everything; the dining facility, SeaScapes, and even the Commissary.”

He is tasked with ensuring the food Team MacDill consume is properly prepared, and the facilities are sanitary.

“There are more than 50 facilities on base that need to be inspected either monthly or quarterly, so I inspect a building just about every day,” explained Bransah. “Depending on the location, the inspection can take around 30 minutes to more than two hours.

“Following the inspection, I write up a report citing the exact verbiage from a regulation we follow.”

This regulation, the Tri-Service Food Code, is a Department of Defense-wide regulation governing how food is prepared, and how to safely operate a food service facility.

“It’s basically the food safety bible,” laughed Bransah. “However, it is much stricter than any food code you’d see outside a military installation.”

Bransah and his team also conduct food vulnerability assessments as a part of the inspection process. These FVAs are used to check if any food has been tampered with, with a malicious intent.

“It’s a little known fact that we not only check for foodborne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli, but also poisons like arsenic,” said Tech. Sgt. Craig White, the NCO in charge of community health assigned to the 6th AMDS. “We look for any suspicious signs. For example, if the back door of the facility can be accessed from the outside by anyone.”

An additional need for the community health team has been created due to the food trucks providing service to Team MacDill’s tenant units. Every new food truck requesting to provide services on base must first be thoroughly inspected by Public Health.

“I inspect the truck itself, but I also have to travel to where the server prepares their food to inspect it as well,” said Bransah. “It can be a commercial kitchen or even their own personal kitchen in their home.”

If he’s not walking through a kitchen, clipboard in hand and checking food expiration dates, Bransah is out in the field setting mosquito traps. The data Bransah collects from the traps dictates when mosquito fogging and aerial fogging should occur. As a result, Public Health acts as a valuable partner to pest management and the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron.

“Whenever I set a trap, I first set up a “day biter” in the morning in order to catch mosquitoes that primarily bite humans during the day,” said Bransah. “Later that afternoon, I will collect the day trap and set up the night trap.”

First, Bransah employs a small cooler filled with dry ice to attract mosquitoes. Then he uses a makeshift vacuum-like device containing a fan to suck in, and ultimately trap, the insects.

“Dry ice is just solid carbon dioxide, and we use it because when it sublimates, or turns from a solid to a gas, it mimics the carbon dioxide humans exhale,” said White. “Mosquitoes love the stuff, that’s why joggers and anyone breathing heavily outside will seem to attract them.”

Between inspections, trapping mosquitoes and drafting reports of the data he collects, Bransah remains busy each duty day. However, his job helps to secure the interests of Team MacDill, as he meticulously ensures the food MacDill eats remains safe, and airborne pests are not carrying harmful diseases.

“It’s a repetitive job, but I enjoy the satisfaction of keeping personnel safe,” said Bransah. “Without checking food and studying mosquitoes, we risk people losing time at work due to illnesses they can contract.

“It’s my job to make sure everyone on MacDill can rest assured that their meal is perfectly safe.”