Specialist keeping depot safe
By Cpl. Ryan A. Smith
| | August 30, 2002
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Annually, more than 80 million Americans leave the dinner table with more than a full belly. These unfortunate folks find themselves dashing to the head or swallowing cases of antacid. They are the miserable and often, unaware, sufferers of food poisoning in one glorious variety or another.
According to the California Department of Health Services, approximately 55 percent of the food poisoning cases are caused by improper cooking and storage of foods. Twenty-four percent is linked to improper hygiene by food handlers. An additional three percent relates to an unsafe food source.
While the Marines and civilians manning the depot's mess halls tend to the proper storage, cooking and hygiene, the Corps further ensures the safety of the food served to thousands of Marines and recruits aboard the depot on a daily basis. They turn to experts in critters and fungus and disease. For the depot, these experts are two solitary Army soldiers trained in veterinary medicine and disease control.
One of these soldiers, Spc. Alfredo Anguiano, a veterinary food inspection specialist, works long hours every day to make sure service members eat contaminant-free food.
"My job is to protect the health and welfare of the Marines and provide quality assurance on the depot's food," said Anguiano. "I inspect the food that is brought onto the depot to make sure the consumers, Marines and Sailors of MCRD, are getting the best possible food they can," said Anguiano.
Anguiano has two primary missions on the depot. The first is to preserve the fighting strength of the troops, and second, to protect the financial interests of the government.
He accomplishes these tasks by managing food safety and quality assurance programs and conducting inspections of products delivered to retail activities.
"We are kind of like watchdogs of what you eat," said Anguiano. "We also watch the deliverers and make sure they are keeping their contracts. We enforce contracts outside businesses have with the government. Quality assurance and the quality of food would go out the window if we weren't doing our jobs."
Some of the various foods inspected are fresh meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, bakery products, frozen foods, infestables, processed meats and dairy products.
"We make sure the food has been refrigerated properly, been held in a sanitary condition and that it is disease free," said Anguiano. "We look at all foods, from frozen and perishable to dry goods. We check it all to make sure the consumer isn't getting anything unwanted in their food."
If the food isn't kept sanitary before, during, or after delivery, germs and fungi can lay claim to food products. In order to keep someone from becoming sick from a bad piece of food, the inspector watches as the food is being delivered and takes note of the conditions the food has been stored in.
"If the temperature on the truck is wrong, or the food has been sitting in the sun for awhile, the food may be harmful," said Anguiano.
"Food that has been warmed up or exposed to the elements could have become contaminated during the shipping process. This allows spores or bacteria to grow in and on products." he said.
Marines who work alongside Anguiano to ensure the safety of the food served and sold aboard the depot recognize the value of their soldier counterparts.
"The vets (veterinarians) research and inspect any food that may be connected to reported illnesses, bugs or pesticides," said Cpl. Jason Card, subsistence chief, Mess Hall 569. "People could die without them."
Part of the young specialist's job is to track and research all messages pertaining to food and food safety as they are released from Headquarters Marine Corps, the Center for Disease Control and other sources. Based on this information, Anguiano may perform lab tests on suspicious products found during his inspections.
"If I find something wrong, then I collect a sample of it and take it back to my lab," said Anguiano. "I run different tests on the specimen to figure out exactly what I am dealing with. Like whether it is common mold spores or something more complicated."
Cleanliness of the product is just one thing he checks on every shipment. He also looks at how the packages are dated and whether the product is what the package says it is.
"When we receive eggs, I have to give a few of them a test," said Anguiano. "After the tests, I determine what type of grade egg they sent us. If I come up with something different than the company says, we send it back as defective."
Next time a Marine sits down for dinner at the mess hall, he can stand assured that his dinner is safe because of strong quality assurance and professional teamwork and communication between the depot's token Army personnel and mess hall staff.
"Keeping the food safe and keeping the Marines and Sailors protected from food-bourne illness is what I do. It gives me a little piece of mind to know I make a difference."
Army veterinarians find themselves serving as food inspectors throughout the Marine Corps as the Navy and Marine Corps do not offer veterinary medicine training. The soldiers' expertise equips them to recognize dangerous creepers and crawlers before they make a trip to the dinner table a hazardous experience.