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Lines of defense ensure commissary food safety

Jan. 8, 2009 - 12:30PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 8, 2009 - 12:30PM  |  
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How safe is the food you buy at the commissary?

Reader Rick Hall wants to know.

After eating part of a package of Singleton's large shrimp that he bought at the commissary in San Diego, he read a magazine article about the Food and Drug Administration's ban of five types of farm-raised seafood from China, including shrimp, because of contamination from antibiotics and carcinogens.

The package didn't say the shrimp was farm-raised in China, but Hall is wondering whether he should be concerned.

"I'm sure the commissary would refund my money, but that isn't the point. How safe are their military customers?" he asked.

Defense Commissary Agency officials "are very proud of the safeguards that are in place to help make sure we sell only the safest food for the military community," spokesman Kevin Robinson said.

Regarding this specific product, there has been no recall on Singleton's large shrimp, he said.

According to their supplier, Robinson said, tiger shrimp or large shrimp come from Thailand. The commissary agency does get its seafood products from various markets because the U.S. does not have enough seafood available to meet its customers' huge demand.

"Ultimately, the Food and Drug Administration governs the criteria that products must meet before being sold to U.S. customers," he said. All products coming from foreign countries that are sold on commissary shelves must meet federal requirements for importation into the U.S. and are subject to FDA inspection when they enter the country.

Products that come from within the U.S. must meet federal and state requirements for production, processing and distribution, as well as periodic reviews of production facilities by federal, state and military food safety auditors.

Food sold in military commissaries comes from approved sources, Robinson said. These approving authorities include the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department.

"The list of approved sources is updated daily. If a potential supplier is not on the approved list, military food inspectors will inspect the facility in which the product is manufactured," he said. "Inspectors check production sites for adherence to FDA regulations that govern the manufacturing, packing or holding of food."

The next line of defense is the coordinated inspections that begin when the food arrives at the commissary and continue until it is purchased by the customer, he said.

"When our customers purchase products from the commissary, they can be assured that the products have passed through a multitiered inspection process," Robinson said.

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