Preventing disease transmission and safeguarding food for consumption is extremely necessary in a deployed environment. Airmen from the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group public health team work to keep U.S. coalition forces and contractors healthy.
Maj. Jessica McGlade, 386th EMDG public health chief, and her team work diligently to ensure all food and food facilities at their location are safe. They also check to see if food handlers are knowledgeable about the food they are handling. Assessing the risks associated with productions, transportation, storage, preparation, and serving of food is a daily occurrence for them.
“We do random inspections to make sure facilities have corrected what they previously have been asked to correct to ensure compliance,” said Staff Sgt. Cassandra Burgess, 386th EMDG public health noncommissioned officer in charge. “If people eat at the dining facility and collectively get sick, that’s a part of the mission that goes down.”
There are 15 government food facilities and 13 public facilities that the team inspects on a monthly basis. This includes the gyms, barber/beauty shops, restaurants and dining facilities. They inspect food temperatures, food quality, overall cleanliness, health of workers and storage conditions.
The food inspectors’ primary mission is to reduce the risks to public health associated with diseases and other health hazards in food. The public health team here works closely with food inspectors from the U.S. Army who inspect the food before it is shipped to this location.
The U.S. Army approves a local prime vendor where the U.S. military purchases the food. They monitor the whole process, from where it is trucked in from an off-base facility, cleared by security forces, and then received by the food facility. The food facility inspects it, sorts it, and stores the food as needed before it is consumed.
“Farm to fork,” said Staff Sgt. Laura Ibanez, 386th EMDG public health technician, on when inspections can be made. “As public health technicians, we inspect from anywhere in that process.”
During the previous six months, the public health team protected approximately 4,000 residents and an additional 32,000 transient personnel.
“When a public health shop is doing its job well, you never see any of the issues we warn about in our briefings or inspections because we are preventing them so well,” said McGlade. “It can make it hard to motivate or convince individuals to continue with those key preventive habits that prevent so many disease non-battle injuries or illnesses. The best way that I have seen to overcome this challenge is by tailoring your education to your audience and weaving in real world examples to make it relatable.”
The public health team agrees that the variety of public health’s mission is what makes their job so interesting. Besides food safety and sanitation, other areas of their occupation demand attention to include deployment health, community health, occupational health, preventive health assessments and entomology.
“Here, I’m your food inspector, mosquito catcher and forward deployment clearance stop, all in one day,” Ibanez said. “At Eglin Air Force Base, I run our PHA program.”
In a deployed environment, they must remain versatile compared to their job at home station where they would typically perform only one aspect of their job.
“I think that the public health shop’s success can be credited to effective communication,” concluded McGlade. “Public health shops have to communicate well with leadership, our food and public facilities, and the base community.”