TORONTO — Shannon McGraw-Manza, a research bioengineer with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) – Soldier Center,  highlighted the army’s interest in food safety during her presentation at the 2023 annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection.

McGraw-Manza emphasized the significance of military field feeding and how it directly affects the morale, discipline, physical condition and overall well-being of soldiers. Furthermore, she emphasized the potentially debilitating effects of inadequate food supplies on individual soldiers, operations, campaigns and even the outcome of battles.

The U.S. Army has a long-standing interest in food safety, with a history dating back to the establishment of the first Army ration by congressional resolution in 1775. Over the years, the army has placed increasing emphasis on nutrition, proper training in cooking and baking and the development of combat rations tailored for specific missions or applications. Collaboration between the government, industry and academia during World War II led to significant advancements in combat rations, with millions of personnel being fed using improved rations. The post-Vietnam era saw the establishment of the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Research and Engineering Program, which continues its activities at DEVCOM-SC today.

The Combat Feeding Division (CFD) at DEVCOM Soldier Center, based in New England, serves as the global leader and technology provider for military field feeding. The division conducts research and development to address evolving field feeding challenges and ensure that the U.S. soldiers are the most capable fighting force in the world. CFD focuses on engineering combat rations, food packaging, quality, safety, performance nutrition, logistics optimization, field food service equipment and the development of combat feeding systems.

One critical aspect of the army’s focus on food safety lies in mitigating food contamination and developing innovative packaging solutions. The Food Protection and Innovative Packaging Team at CFD works on solutions to protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats, as well as to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. Their efforts include microbiological testing of foods and the development of packaging technologies to ensure food safety.

Food safety challenges are prevalent in military operations, as soldiers are often deployed to areas with varying food sanitization standards. Procuring perishable foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy and bakery items from host or neighboring nations poses additional risks. Foodborne disease outbreaks can have a significant impact on troop performance and readiness. The most common causes of foodborne illnesses among soldiers include Campylobacter jejuni, Shigella spp., Salmonella enterica-non-typhoidal, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) non-0157 and norovirus.

The consequences of foodborne illnesses among soldiers are substantial. Annually, soldiers affected by foodborne illness miss an average of three work days, resulting in the equivalent of $900 million in lost wages. Therefore, the U.S. Army’s investment in food safety research and development is crucial to mitigate these risks and ensure the health and readiness of its troops.

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