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78th AMD's Public Health Flight ensures food safety

Fred Brown checks the temperature on hot items to make sure they are 135 degrees or higher in the kitchen of Taco Johns in the BX food court Oct. 9. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

Fred Brown checks the temperature on hot items to make sure they are 135 degrees or higher in the kitchen of Taco Johns in the BX food court Oct. 9. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- With the holidays upon us, food is likely to be abound in the work areas and at festivities around the base.

Before people at Robins can serve up their favorite homemade or even store-bought edible goodies, they are advised to contact the food safety experts in the 78th Aerospace Medicine Squad-ron's Public Health Flight to make sure the food is safe to eat.

Pat Tooley, lead health specialist in the 78th AMDS, said getting the word out about food safety is important.

"A lot of times, people will bring a vendor on the base during the holidays without contacting us and it's extremely important that we're aware of who's bringing anything on this base to sell as far as food items," she said.

Mrs. Tooley said her flight must be involved in the process of serving and selling food on base from the very beginning.

Master Sgt. Varnell Simpson, NCOIC of Food Safety in 78th AMDS, said protecting people from food borne illnesses is one of her team's main areas of concern.

Sergeant Simpson said people must come through the 78th AMDS as well as the 78th Force Support Squadron's Services Branch before providing food for public consumption and that includes the work area.

"You always want to know where the food source came from," she said. "You don't want to have an event and have unidentified food there, so we always stress to label the food so you know who brought what and food doesn't just show up to your event."

Sergeant Simpson said food safety includes knowing food's origin, cooking and storing food at proper temperatures, and proper sanitation when handling and storing food.

Robins operates its Food Safety Program under the guidance of Air Force Instruction 48-116, Food Safety Program, and AFI 48-101, Aerospace Medical Operations, as well as the Food and Drug Administration's food code.

Sergeant Simpson said Robins' food safety professionals teach the four basics to food safety.

People should clean their hands thoroughly before preparing food and ensure the food preparation area is sanitized, Sergeant Simpson said.

Separating cooked from raw foods and ensuring proper temperatures during heating and chilling of food are also a must, Sergeant Simpson said.

Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or less, and heated foods should be kept at 135 degrees or higher.

These are just a few of the facts Sergeant Simpson and others, like Fred Brown, an environmental technician in the 78th AMDS, teach people.

Mr. Brown ensures everyone who is going to sell or prepare food on Robins is aware of the ins and outs of food safety.

"I'm the one who normally gives the training to the individuals and gives the approval for having these functions," he said. "They have to come through me before they come through Services."

Mr. Brown said the training he provides and approval of food preparation and food service helps to limit the serving of potentially hazardous foods in temporary settings.

The mandatory training Mr. Brown conducts advises people to not do the food preparation and storage practices they often do at home.

"Basically, we try to make sure they don't do things they do at home," he said. "We do a lot of things at home that are improper, like thawing our food improperly."

Mr. Brown said food must be thawed through cooking, submerging it in cold, running water, or by setting it in the refrigerator for a few days.

Ensuring proper internal temperature of foods is another area Mr. Brown teaches.

People who are going to sell or handle food must be trained and receive a signed letter to provide as proof of the training, Mr. Brown said.

In addition to ensuring individuals have the proper food safety knowledge, Mr. Brown and others in the program conduct periodic inspections of more than 65 eating establishments on Robins and also investigate customer complaints involving food sold on base.

"We're not out to embarrass or hurt anyone," Mr. Brown said. "We're here to help and promote a healthy environment."