The intentional contamination of the Department of Defense’s food and water supplies could have serious effects on the mission of the U.S. military and on individual servicemembers and their Families.
“The primary focus of food defense is the prevention of the intentional contamination of our food supply, while food safety is aimed at preventing unintentional or accidental contamination,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Kevin M. Gill, veterinary food inspection specialist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command.
“Since both food safety and food defense deal with the protection of the food supply, it follows that measures for enhancing food safety and food defense often go hand in hand,” Gill said.
“Although food safety had been a mainstay of the mission of Army veterinary food inspectors, food defense had not even been a focus of discussion until after Sept. 11, 2001,” said Col. Thomas E. Honadel, USAPHC Veterinary Services Food Protection Program manager. “Since that time, more emphasis has been placed on antiterrorism food defense plans.”
USAPHC veterinary food inspectors are required to perform annual installation food vulnerability assessments of all Army, Navy and Marine Corps installations, while Air Force personnel perform many of the same functions at their bases.
“Our veterinary food inspectors identify potential weaknesses and ways to reduce, control or eliminate the hazards. They do so in a very uniform and consistent manner, using highly specific written standards,” said Gill.
“These annual assessments are required by DoD and focus on food from its source to entering the gate (at a military post),” said Honadel. “All Army installations must have a food defense assessment team that conducts food vulnerability assessments and crafts a regularly updated food defense plan.”
A food defense team consists primarily of USAPHC veterinary food inspection s
pecialists (68Rs), a Veterinary Corps officer and preventive medicine personnel. The team may also include the Defense Commissary Agency; Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Army and Air Force Exchange Service; local criminal investigation; security; and antiterrorism personnel.
“Our food inspectors, as the primary part of the food defense assessment team, use checklists to target areas of concern and point out common-sense, low-cost solutions to possible areas of vulnerability,” said Gill.
“Food defense measures include training for food service personnel, increased physical security of food service areas and even background and identification checks,” he said.
Additionally, special events require even more scrutiny. These events are defined as “any activity characterized by a large concentration of personnel and/or a gathering where distinguished visitors are involved, often associated with a unique or symbolic event.”
“Special events, such as presidential inaugurations, offer opportunities to assess possible food vulnerabilities,” according to Gill. “The USAPHC veterinary food inspectors support these events that are often open to the general public and located outside of military installations.”
During special events, teams of veterinary food inspectors and preventive medicine personnel are assembled at the local USAPHC regional commands. The teams then deploy to provide pre-assessment surveys aimed at reducing the vulnerability of food and beverage service to intentional contamination or disruption by terrorists or criminals.
Awareness of food supplies and food deliveries as well as potential contamination during food preparation highlights the need for enhanced force protection measures, according to Honadel.
These vitally important measures are accomplished, in part, by a technically trained group of Army veterinary service personnel mostly working behind the scenes and unnoticed by many — the USAPHC veterinary food inspection specialists and Veterinary Corps officers.