Fort McCoy News November 28, 2014

Team leads McCoy food inspection, safety program

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

When people eat or buy food at Fort McCoy, they can be assured they are getting a safe product thanks to a team of five Soldiers that inspects it all.

Photo for food inspection article
Private 1st Class Yevheniy Andreyko, veterinary food
inspection specialist, prepares food thermometers for
use while working at the Fort McCoy Commissary.

The U.S. Army Public Health Command (PHC) Office at Fort McCoy, also called the Veterinary Services Office, is located in building 495. The office, staffed with an active-duty food safety officer and four veterinary food inspection specialists, helps protect community members from food-borne disease through observing, auditing and assessing vulnerabilities of food sources.

"If food is stored or served at Fort McCoy, we will be there to ensure its safety," said Staff Sgt. Oliver Estrada, noncommissioned officer in charge of the PHC Office. "With food inspection, for example, we have to make sure (the product) is coming from a safe, approved source."

An approved source could include a food source approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It also could be a source that was inspected, audited and approved by the food safety officer (FSO).

"We work hard to make sure Fort McCoy has the best food sources available," said FSO Chief Warrant Officer 1 Yury Erolsky.

As the FSO, Erolsky conducts commercial food audits of companies wanting to sell products to the Department of Defense (DOD). He makes sure Prime Vendor food processing facilities — main food manufacturers and providers — are properly taken care of, and USDA and FDA guidelines are followed. If a company is in compliance, and passes an audit, that company can then contract with the DOD to sell products.

Erolsky's inspection responsibility covers Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"It's not uncommon for me to be out for a week doing audits," Erolsky said. "And, in addition to Fort McCoy, our team handles all food inspection responsibility for Camp Ripley (Minn.)."

All team members also are trained thoroughly in food inspection. In addition to eight weeks of advanced individual training to earn their basic skill level, veterinary food inspection specialists also must go through many levels of on-the-job training, Estrada said.

"We are learning every day," Estrada said. "We are constantly reviewing and learning new procedures and guidelines related to our career field."

Their training includes learning to evaluate packaging, packing and marking requirements; identify unsanitary conditions in food-storage facilities and commissary stores; operate and maintain inspection equipment; and perform duties in accordance with approved standards and conduct set by the federal government.

"We also handle food recalls," Estrada said. "When a manufacturer does a recall on food, we usually get it first, then we contact each facility that's on base that may have the product. We ensure they no longer carry or have that product, and then we'll put that product on medical hold."

Photo for food inspection article
Private 1st Class Keyodona Walton and Staff Sgt. Bryan Agosto, veterinary
food inspection specialists from the U.S. Army Public Health Command Office
at Fort McCoy, inspect meals, ready-to-eat in building 495.

Soldiers from the PHC Office inspect food each day at the Fort McCoy Commissary and in any dining facility that is open on the installation. "When inspecting dining facilities, we make sure they are maintaining proper temperatures for their storage and their cooking," Estrada said.

The team also maintains an office at the commissary. While there, they could be inspecting red meats, poultry, water, eggs, dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Food products (at the Commissary) designated for human consumption are inspected upon receipt and in storage, Estrada said. Items received must have a 50 percent shelf life remaining to be accepted.

Commissary Grocery Manager Jessica Pfaff said the PHC Office team supports their operations year-round, inspecting as many as 10 truck shipments of food every week, or more than 500 shipments in a year.

"Having them here is a huge help for us," Pfaff said. "They're here daily, and they're quick to let us know if a product is not up to standards. They'll check the temperatures and quality of products like produce and other perishable groceries to make sure they're safe for our customers. We really appreciate their support."

The PHC Office also works routinely with Fort McCoy Food Service Manager Andy Pisney from the Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) Supply and Services Division.

"The office is very important to our food program here on Fort McCoy," Pisney said. "They provide a very valuable food safety service to the installation to ensure all service members eating in any of our dining facilities are being provided quality, safe food to eat.

"They provide training to food service operation employees and transient training food service specialists on proper food receipt and storage, and they are our first line of food defense in any instances of food safety recalls we receive from the Defense Logistics Agency and our subsistence vendors," Pisney said.

At the LRC's Subsistence Supply Management Office, Pisney said the Soldiers of the PHC Office inspect all operational ration shipments, conduct operational ration quality samples, track operational ration expiration dates and shelf-life extensions, and do quality inspections on all residual rations received from training units prior to the rations being transferred to another unit, a dining facility or donated.

"Also, within our dining facilities, they conduct destination audits to ensure the food items we are supposed to be getting from our vendor are the correct food items in terms of quality and conduct ration storage inspections to ensure food items are being stored correctly," Pisney said.

The PHC Office also performs daily and weekly sanitation inspections of all facilities that serve food at Fort McCoy, including the Child Development Center, McCoy's Community Club, Exchange restaurants and contracted food trucks.

Another role of the PHC Office is food defense. Estrada said team members work with the Installation Antiterrorism Office and the Directorate of Emergency Services to determine measures to further protect and inspect food sources in case of increased force protection measures.

"Protecting (reliable) food sources is an important part of what we do," said Staff Sgt. Bryan Agosto, a veterinary food inspection specialist on the team. "We have advanced training on operations security and other measures — food defense is an important part of our mission."

Erolsky said he's proud of his team's efforts. "This is, by far, one of the best teams I've ever worked with," he said, noting they are a group of "self-starters."

Estrada added the team has a "great group" of Soldiers. "What we do is very important, and everyone here knows how important their work is to the safety of our community."

Estrada said they are available to offer food safety training to anyone who requires it — all they need to do is call and set up an appointment.

For more information about the PHC Office or to make a training appointment, call 608-388-3208.