From farm to table... public health ensures food safety

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick from more than 250 different foodborne illnesses each year. The symptoms of which can easily stop workers in their tracks.

In the military, defense is vital on all fronts, including preventing foodborne illnesses that may take a service member away from the mission. At MacDill, the 6th Aerospace Medicine Squadron's public health section ensures food safety and upholds quality fuel for MacDill service members.

“Each year, we conduct a food vulnerability assessment where we thoroughly inspect every food processing location on base,” said Senior Airman Patrick Goot, a 6th AMDS occupational health technician.

Data is collected through visual inspections of how the kitchens operate. The staff is interviewed and in some cases, the team will appear unannounced to try and “break in” to food storage areas.

“We ensure every aspect of the kitchen is secure,” said Staff Sgt. Rachel Urquhart, the 6th AMDS NCO in charge of food safety and sanitation. “Water lines, gas lines, and the air conditioning and ventilation systems must be kept locked and other items like ladders must be accounted for.”

Once complete, this annual assessment is briefed to 6th Air Mobility Wing leadership giving them the knowledge and confidence that the base populace’s food sources are safe and sanitary.

“In general, eating food at MacDill is just like anywhere else, but our adversaries could use food as a method of attack because of our service,” said Goot. “It’s our job to make that impossible, and to help prevent work loss due to foodborne illnesses.”

Beyond the large vulnerability inspection occurring once a year, the public health team checks up on the same locations on a regular basis.

“Most of the prevention starts with routine inspections,” said Urquhart. “I’m constantly inspecting public areas on base that prepare food, checking to ensure the conditions are sanitary from the moment the food is cooked, to when it’s received by the customer.”

Maintaining a sanitized area is one step to combating foodborne illnesses, but it’s not the only thing to consider.

“Foodborne pathogens can spread by putting contaminated foods close to each other,” added Urquhart. “Using properly regulated refrigerators, and keeping safe food-handling practices in mind helps keep Airmen healthy.”

Every day, more than 700 meals are consumed at the Diner’s Reef dining facility on MacDill alone. From delivery on base to a service member's plate, public health Airmen ensure food safety so service members get the fuel they need to focus on the mission.