News: Rodent infestation problem at Joint Base?
Story by Joseph P Cirone
By Joseph P. Cirone
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Public Affairs
WASHINGTON – Rumors of rats at the Commissary, the Exchange and an infestation of rodents throughout Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) are untrue.
That a routine public health inspection found evidence of the presence of mice on one shelf at the Commissary is true. Also true is that mice are occasionally found elsewhere on base.
Assertions of the presence of rats at the Commissary began circulating on social media on April 4. The baseless beliefs snowballed in the weeks after to include the alleged presence of rats in the Exchange food court area and then to an alleged infestation of rats throughout the entire installation.
“There is not a problem at the Commissary. I’ve been monitoring the Commissary for the last three months and we have not caught anything at all in our traps, nor have we seen our bait disappear. There is no ongoing problem,” JBAB Pest Controller Kenneth Martin emphatically stated.
Before coming to JBAB Public Works in December, 2012, Martin worked for 12 years at Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Facility Washington, performing pest control duties.
JBAB Pest Control Supervisor, Jackie Pitts, said there have not been any recent sightings or evidence of rodents at the Exchange or its food court.
Pitts also confirmed that there is neither a problem nor an infestation of rodents on the installation.
Pitts, a pest controller at JBAB since its 2010 inception and at the three military installations that formed JBAB, since 2003, acknowledged that a mouse; or evidence of mouse activity; have been noted on occasion at a couple of other locations on the installation.
Mice among Us; No cause to overreact
“Catching a mouse here and there is not a problem. Someone may leave a door open or they slip thru a crack under a door. Living on the river banks; structural cracks in a building and mice looking for food, water and warmth all contribute to the problem,” he said.
While unpleasant to think of and accept, most people are aware that mice are common in their very own homes at times.
Pitts added that in addition to food and water, other items also attract rodents for their use as nesting materials, including napkins and other paper products, for example.
JBAB Commander, Navy Capt. Anthony T. Calandra, confirmed that there have been no reports of any recent rodent activity in either the Exchange; its food court or any other food establishment on the installation.
“Often when people see a single mouse they assume there is a problem or a nest, when that is not the case,” Pitts said.
Martin said, “I think a lot of people overreact. A lot of times people don’t fully understand that the problem is not as bad as they make it out to be. They make things out to be worse than they really are.”
“I just want people to know that we have rodents under control. I don’t want people to be worrying that we are being overrun by rats and mice, when in fact we are not,” Martin stated.
JBAB has a robust pest control program
Pitts and Martin are two of the three full-time pest controllers who work for JBAB. A third full-timer works the night shift, entering facilities, performing pest control duties and surveillance when rodents and other nocturnal pests are most active.
As part of the ongoing preventive program to detect and eliminate any rodent (and other pest) presence before it becomes a problem, JBAB has traps and bait placed at various facilities, including the Exchange and Commissary.
The Air Force’s 579th Medical Group performs random and routine public health inspection throughout the base and its food establishments to ensure they meet stringent government and military standards. Reports of any standard not met are provided to Calandra and others, so they can take immediate action.
Pitts stated it was an inspection by the 579th that found mice droppings in the Commissary. Commissary Produce Manager Patricia Carter said the droppings were found in a small section of one aisle in a hard to see portion of a shelf. No other areas of the Commissary showed signs of any rodent presence.
Air Force Col. Kathryn F. Tate, commander of the 579th, stated, “There were no mice found in the aisles. What was found was evidence of mice via the use of a black light.”
Pitts and Martin believe the droppings were old and not indicative of a current problem.
Martin said, “There appears to have been some mice in that area in the distant past. The droppings were located in a hard to see section of the shelf, away from the food that is moved off the shelf during purchase and then restocked. The old droppings made it seem like there is a current problem, when in fact there is not.”
In addition to its use of highly trained public health personnel, who adhere to high standards, the 579th use of technology enhances its capabilities. “The enhanced capability of the 579th public health department [using the black light as part of its routine inspection procedure] continues to assure safe food products across JBAB,” Tate assured.
Immediate action taken; No signs of a recurring problem; Precautions remain in place
Upon getting the 579th’s report, Commissary leaders, including Manager Linda Elliott; Assistant Manager Harry Farrell, Carter and Grocery Manager Charles Simons, took immediate action, removing and discarding all items from the area where the droppings were found, as well as adjacent areas, as an added measure of concern for public health.
A team from the Defense Commissary Agency (DECA) headquarters at Fort Lee, Va., which oversees all DOD commissaries, was dispatched from its Public Health and Safety Directorate, to make an independent assessment, according to DECA spokesperson, Richard Brink.
The DECA team concurred that the issue was contained to the small area identified by the 579th and the JBAB pest controllers.
Brink added that the team “found signs of mice where oriental noodles, animal food, and baking products are stored for sale.”
Commissary employees did a deep (complete) cleaning of the affected aisle and other aisles as well. At different times, Public Health; Pest Control; Calandra and Commissary personnel have all since walked the entire store to ensure they did not miss any other evidence of rodents. None has been found.
The area was cleaned with a bleach and water sterilizing solution and allowed to remain bare for a period of time before the shelves were restocked with new items, Simons and Carter stated.
“Inspections show the problem has been effectively addressed,” Brink stated.
To prevent any future incursion of rodents, door sweeps under each door have been replaced at the Commissary, making it more difficult for rodents to gain access, Commissary officials said.
“We have not seen any evidence of new droppings,” Carter said.
She added that as an additional level of concern for public health, Commissary employees use a black (ultraviolet) light to check for the evidence of rodent urine or other signs of rodent presence on a frequent basis throughout the week. None has been detected.
Robert M. Timm, Superintendent and Extension Wildlife Specialist with the Hopland Research and Extension Center at the University of California reported that “Urine, both wet and dry, will fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Urine stains may occur along travel ways or in feeding areas.”
“We have been checking the traps and under shelves and have not found anything,” Simons added.
Brink said, “The possibility of pest infestations (rodents or insects) is a constant concern to all food-handling facilities.”
To prevent any infestation, “The JBAB Commissary operates under an integrated pest management program that emphasizes active surveillance and diligent sanitation, with a focus on prevention through exclusion, good housekeeping, and preventive measures such as monitoring,” Brink confirmed.
Brink said periodic inspections are also conducted by Commissary-based medical food safety inspectors who walk through the sales and warehouse areas, looking for any signs or conditions that can lead to infestations. When any abnormality is found, a task force of professionals, including JBAB personnel, public health and commissary management addresses the situation.