When the U.S. Navy needed a way to feed sailors quarantined due to COVID-19, they turned to DLA Troop Support for help.
The Subsistence supply chain received the request for individually wrapped, pre-made sandwiches, salads and breakfast sandwiches last month, said Patricia Scott, chief of DLA Troop Support’s Customer Operations Garrison Feeding Division. These items will go to ships, mostly aircraft carriers, docking in Seattle, Washington; San Diego, California; Norfolk, Virginia; and Mayport, Florida, she said.
“The ships, when they return to port, will let healthy crew disembark,” Scott said. “Quarantined crew will stay on board with a smaller support staff and fewer culinary specialists to cook less food. That’s why the Navy wanted something the sailors could grab and go and stay in isolation and quarantine.”
The pre-made menu includes chicken Caesar, chopped Asian and turkey salads, and ham and cheese, roast beef and cheese, and smoked turkey sandwiches all on sesame rolls, said Michael Espinoza, a Subsistence field representative for Southern California.
The breakfast sandwiches are sausage, egg and cheese on a bagel; an English muffin with ham, egg and cheese; and a whole grain English muffin with egg whites, turkey sausage and cheese, he said.
The request also included individual beverages like water, sodas, juices and Gatorade, Scott said, and every item has to comply with the Berry Amendment.
Initially, the request included four locations, but Scott says once the items are in the catalog, there could be interest in purchasing these items beyond these initial sites.
“The Navy is trying to mitigate the exposure space between somebody walking into the kitchen and picking up food or standing in line for food,” Scott said “We’re really seeing that all over the place, really trying to have all dining facilities embrace a social distancing practice.”
After figuring out the varieties of sandwiches and salads, availability, shelf life and the frequency of delivery, Scott said the supply chain worked with the prime vendors and the customer to create the total package and start getting the items out to the ships.
“It’s a total team effort with everybody stepping in to make the phone calls that are needed and ask clarifying questions,” Scott said.
The sandwiches and salads were expected to start shipping to Seattle this week.
In these uncertain times, with most industries in flux, Scott said finding new sources for some of the items proved to be a challenge.
For example, the supply chain first thought about working with local vendors to see if fresh sandwiches would be suitable for this order. The shelf-life was too short, however, and they moved onto other options, Scott said, eventually choosing a frozen, pre-made sandwich.
Shelf life for salads had to be increased from five to 11 days, Espinoza said, so they find a vendor able to provide salads with that extended shelf life.
“The teams, while they’re working on this, requests for delivery dates are changing because of the prime vendors might be changing their internal routing schedules,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of flux in the system right now, but I haven’t heard one complaint, and everybody’s saying, ‘Ok, got it, let’s move on. Let’s find a solution.’”
The challenges vendors are now facing span from coast to coast.
“They’ve got challenges, especially here [in Southern California],” Espinoza said. “People are trying just to get to work. The vendors have to make sure everyone who is at work is social distancing and conscious of what they have to do to make sure everybody’s in good health. Hats off to the vendors, most definitely.”
Despite these challenges, the vendors are stepping up to meet these challenges.
“It been a very quick turnaround,” Espinoza said. “Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great vendors out here who really support the warfighters.” Some vendors were able to turn around requests in 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Both Scott and Espinoza agreed that making sure the Sailors had the food they needed during these challenging times is the most important part of this request.
“If the warfighter is happy and satisfied at the end of the day with what we’re doing, I’m a happy camper,” Espinoza said. “To me that’s what matters.”