21 June 2011

E. coli outbreak in Germany

If you have been following the news then you are aware of the Escherichia coli, commonly referred to as E. coli, outbreak in Germany. E. Coli are bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract of animals including humans. Most types of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains can cause fatal illness by producing toxins which can result in serious kidney complications. Since early May, the German outbreak caused 39 deaths and sickened over 3,517 people, 839 of them with life-threatening kidney disease.

German authorities initially believed that cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce were the sources of the outbreak. Our DoD’s executive agent for subsistence, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Troop Support, quickly removed these items from the European subsistence prime vendor contract while SIXTH Fleet immediately issued a message directing all activities in theater to either discard or properly disinfect all cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce with chlorine or an appropriate sanitizer. Further, Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) issued a “Food Flash” to all afloat and ashore galleys advising food service officers of the problem and reiterating the direction in the SIXTH Fleet message to ensure ALCON were aware of the situation and taking the necessary precautions to prevent infection of U.S. personnel.

By 10 June, German authorities revised their assessment by identifying bean sprouts as the root cause for the E. Coli outbreak. Military food service activities were not at risk because DoD approved sources for bean sprouts do not include Germany. Again, SIXTH Fleet and NAVSUP notified all activities of the suspected E. Coli source and DLA Troop Support returned cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce to the subsistence prime vendor contract.

Keeping our military food safe for consumption is a critically important task since an outbreak of food borne illness can cripple a deployed ship or unit. Interestingly, since food borne diseases are animal related, the Army Veterinary Corps provides food safety and security inspections for all the Armed Services. The Army Veterinary Corps works closely with U.S. and foreign public health activities to ensure our military global subsistence supply chain is providing safe food to the warfighter.

I was very impressed with the manner in which our teams at the DLA Troop Support, NAVSUP and SIXTH Fleet rapidly responded and took control of the supply lines to protect our Service members, Civilians and their families from this very serious outbreak. I wanted to share this story with you because it is a great example of what our Sailors, Civilians, and military support organizations do every day for our Navy – but whose hard work is rarely publicly recognized.
All the best, JCHjr

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