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Public Health Foodborne Illness Case Study During A Special Operations Forces Deployment To South America

Fall 2010

McCown ME, Grzeszak B. 10(4). 45 - 47. (Journal Article)


Although many public health articles have been published detailing foodborne illness outbreaks, a medical literature search revealed no articles that detail a case study or a specific response of a deployed U.S. military unit to a potential foodborne illness. This article describes a recent public health case study of a U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) team sickened while deployed to South America. It highlights public health factors which may affect U.S. personnel deployed or serving overseas and may serve as a guide for a deployed SOF medic to reference in response to a potential food- or waterborne illness outbreak. Methods: Eight food samples and five water samples were collected. The food samples were obtained from the host nation kitchen that provided food to the SOF team. The water samples were collected from the kitchen as well as from multiple sites on the host nation base. These samples were packaged in sterile containers, stored at appropriate temperatures, and submitted to a U.S. Army diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Results: Laboratory results confirmed the presence of elevated aerobic plate counts (APCs) in the food prepared by the host nation and consumed by the SOF team. Discussion: High APCs in food are the primary indicator of improper sanitation of food preparation surfaces and utensils. Conclusion: This case study concluded that poor kitchen sanitation, improper food storage, preparation, and/or holding were the probable conditions that led to the team's symptoms. These results emphasize the importance of ensuring safe food and water for U.S. personnel serving overseas, especially in a deployment or combat setting. Contaminated food and/or water will negatively impact the health and availability of forces, which may lead to mission failure. The SOF medic must respond to potential outbreaks and be able to (1) critically inspect food preparation areas and accurately advise commanders in order to correct deficiencies and (2) perform food/water surveillance testing consistently throughout a deployment and at any time in response to a potential outbreak.

PMID: 21442591