News: A look at food safety with VETCOM
Story by Spc. April de Armas
CAMP ZAMA, Japan - When people hear about the Army Veterinary Command some might think of pets and animal care. The VETCOM does more than just take care of Soldiers pets, they have another mission. They are responsible for all food safety and quality assurance for U. S. Forces Japan.
“Veterinary units across the Army are responsible for the food surveillance and regular monitoring of over 2,000 food plants around the world,” said Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Watterson, food safety and quality assurance, Japan District Veterinary Command. “Our unit works to ensure food coming into the commissary, restaurants located on post and the dining facility is within regulations and standards set by the Army, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.”
Food safety and crop contamination has been a large concern in all the communities in Japan since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. However, Watterson and Chief Warrant Officer Thomas R. Cobb, food protection officer, Japan District VETCOM, are helping to assure the food consumed by residents and military personal at Camp Zama and the surrounding area is within regulations and safe for consumption.
“We are obviously concerned with what the tsunami and radioactive plume did to the crops here in Japan,” said Watterson. “We put out a release on March 20 about the spinach and milk because there was a concern that the local products had been contaminated and were not safe for consumption; so we verified that the affected products were not in the U.S. Forces supply chain and took action to prevent future deliveries of those products.
Additionally, food products such as rice and produce being bought from Japanese vendors from inside the 150 mile radius of the Fukushuma radioactive zone have been suspended from delivery until further notice.
“We are getting most [of] everything from the States for now, until all is approved and verified to be safe for consumption,” said Cobb.
The Japan District VETCOM inspects 60 food production plants in Japan including two dairy plants in Hokkaido.
“Our staff conducts quarterly and semi-annual checks on all 60 of the plants in and around Japan,” said Cobb. “Our food safety checks of food production plants do not stop at Army lines; all of the food inspection for U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps installations in Japan falls under JDVC, except for the Air Force, who has its own food safety officers.”
The Military Radiac AN/PDR-77 is one of the tools used when conducting food safety checks. It detects and measures alpha, beta, gamma and x-ray radiation on packaging and food itself.
“We do daily checks on the local food here, in the Kanto plain and perform additional checks as necessary” said Sgt. Joshua Jones, a food inspector with VETCOM.
Another function that is fairly new to Camp Zama’s VETCOM is the Food Surveillance Laboratory. It is another tool used primarily for locally procured items.
“It is a basic laboratory that we use to monitor locally purchased foods and to investigate consumer complaints,” said Cobb. “Our main food laboratory is located at Fort Sam Houston, Texas but the turnaround time for food testing sent that far away is increased and many times, we can handle smaller problems here. Of course, we still send samples there for confirmation of what our laboratory findings are here.”
The VETCOM continues to work hard to ensure food is safe for soldiers and their family’s consumption.
“We want people to understand that we will do what is necessary to protect our soldiers and the people who live on our post and in our communities,” said Watterson.