Story by Michelle Thum
Public Health Command Europe
Trondheim, Norway — U.S. Army Food Inspectors from Public Health Activity-Rheinland Pfalz recently travelled to Norway, in support of the U.S. Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway to inspect out-of-date rations for shelf-life extension.
Sgt. Jose Jimenez and Staff Sgt. Lenee Williams, both veterinary food inspectors, were able to support sister services in Norway by extending over 23,000 cases of rations including over 19,000 cases of Meals Ready to Eat as well as over 4,000 Meals Cold Weather. These extensions continue to provide food and subsistence items to the war fighter and saves the U.S. government over 3.8 million dollars.
To determine if food rations are still safe to eat after the use-by date, there are several steps a food inspector needs to take.
“First, we determine a sample size lot of Meals-Ready-to-Eat and Meals-Cold- Weather to establish serviceability of the rations,” said Williams. “Additionally, we checked storage conditions by inspecting the time temperature Indicators located on each shipping container and checked for pest infestation by inspecting the storage containers and warehouse areas and the individual product boxes.”
Afterwards, the food inspectors performed a closed package inspection of the MRE and MCW, where they examined the outside of the shipping containers, product packages and packaging checking for various deficiencies.
“Lastly, we performed a destructive opened package inspection, where we open each component of the MRE and MCW and perform sensory testing on those components,” added Williams.
Organoleptic testing involves the assessment of flavor, odor, appearance, and mouthfeel of a food product.
“The use-by and sell-by (expiration date) is only the manufacturer’s recommendation for when the food item is at its peak quality,” said Williams. “It does not mean an individual will become sick from consuming the product. Additionally, the sell-by dates of a product can be used to determine food safety of that product regarding spoilage, wholesomeness and staleness that will likely follow sometime after the expiration date.”
According to Williams, extended shelf-life of a product is any timeframe that exceeds the expiration date. When veterinary food inspectors perform an inspection to extend the shelf life of a product, it is ultimately determined by using organoleptic testing, which involves all five senses. If the product still tastes and smells the same, there is no harm in extending the shelf-life.
Williams, who initially enlisted as a cargo transport specialist switched over to become veterinary food inspector in 2015. This was after talking to a battle buddy who was already in the career field.
“Being a veterinary food inspector sounded pretty cool, so I did some further research and thought medical food inspection is similar to health inspection and from there I decided to give it a shot,” said Williams.
Williams has not regretted her decision and is thankful for the variety of opportunities the veterinary food inspector career field has provided her.
“I would not change anything,” added Williams. “I have been able to work with other branches of the military, such as the Navy and the Marine Corps. Additionally, I was granted the opportunity to participate in the Ship Rider Program, where I accompanied a Navy Supply for 5 months visiting various ports in Europe performing receipt and surveillance inspections of various subsistence.”
Williams likes to consider herself a “foodie” so being a food inspector is a great fit.
“One part of being an Army food inspector is being required to actually sample the food items that you inspect and I really enjoy it,” said Williams.
As the Stuttgart Veterinary Treatment Facility branch noncommissioned officer in charge, Williams manages the branch where she oversees daily operations, supply management and ensures the VTF runs as smoothly.
As part of her duties, Williams oversees the VTF’s food protection program for 51 food facilities, the Food Recall Program and Installation Support Plan ensuring all agency directors are aware of the support that is provided to them daily.
The Stuttgart Army Veterinary Treatment Facility provides support to four different U.S. Army Installations in the greater Stuttgart area encompassing approximately 20,000 servicemembers, DOD Civilians/Contractors and DoD beneficiaries.
“On any given day, my food inspectors conduct five to six food facility inspections to include military sanitary inspections across four different installations,” said Williams. “They also perform two to three subsistence extensions at various facilities and conduct two to three receipt and surveillance inspections daily.”
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