VOLK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Wis. – Service members and first responders on daring search and rescue missions, debris clearing assignments and other critical emergency relief efforts rely on a regulatory agency to ensure the food they consume meets U.S. military standards.
In the event of a real-world crisis or disaster, a food safety inspection team responds rapidly to conduct quality-monitoring inspections at local federally-approved food vendors. If deployed to an overseas location, teams must approve potential vendors to minimize health risks and ensure sanitary standards are maintained. These teams are typically comprised of public health technicians, a biomedical engineer, a flight doctor and a medical technician.
During PATRIOT North 17, an inspection team comprised of members from the 108th Wing in New Jersey and Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center in Wisconsin obtained practical experience by observing workers at Foss Fine Meats and Deli in Sparta, Wisconsin. They visited a slaughterhouse to observe conditions of live animals, monitor food production processes and gather best practices of the industry.
“We want to be prepared to determine whether food is healthy for troops to eat at facilities that may not be on an approved list,” said Tech Sgt. Emilio Gonzalez, a 108th Wing public health technician. “Some of the things we’re monitoring are cleanliness of the facility, health and hygiene of workers, and safety procedures.”
From birth to girth, these teams acquire a holistic view of the food production process: from slaughter to frozen preservation, processing to packaging, and seller to consumer for purchase. Understanding the lifecycle of food production not only aids inspection teams, but also instills confidence in troops, who can be sure the food they consume has passed rigorous inspection.
“The slaughtering is the first point of potential contamination and also the most important process to observe,” said Capt. Gyasi Mann, a real-world medical planner for PATRIOT and a New Jersey Air National Guardsman. “They should understand how animal welfare affects food quality before public consumption. Once they see all aspects – from the live animal all the way to the dinner plate, we can ensure food is the safest possible for our troops.”
Even though inspection teams aren’t found on the front lines, the stakes are just as high — and they execute their mission with equal intensity.