Update: Rep. Smith asks National Guard chief to provide food per diem, other safe food options for Guard personnel

MARCH 5, 2021

WASHINGTONN D.C. –One day after learning that members of the New Jersey National Guard were sickened by raw and tainted food, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) today asked General Hokanson, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, to provide food per diem and other safe food options for Guard personnel deployed at the Capitol.

“I urge you to provide food per diem to help ensure safety,” Smith said in a letter to General Hokanson. “And, I respectfully request that you explore the feasibility of using one of the congressional cafeterias currently closed for the exclusive use for food service for the Guard.”

Smith requested a meeting with the General and reiterated his urgent call to immediately terminate the current food provider’s contract.

On Wednesday, Smith asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate the matter and called for the contractor providing the bad meals to be immediately terminated. Speaker Pelosi’s spokesman reportedly indicated that the House Speaker agreed.

Smith had heard from his constituents—relatives of NJ National Guard members—of tainted food that had made several Guard members sick, including at least 30 from his home state. Some reportedly were vomiting in the Senate parking lot.

            “This is outrageous,” Smith said. “The women and men deployed here from New Jersey—and frankly from every state—to protect the Capitol deserve meals that are absolutely safe and healthy.”

            “The tainted food appears to be the exclusive fault of the private sector vendor, not the Guard,” Smith continued. “Many of the members of the Guard are now purchasing their own meals, underscoring the need for a food per diem.”

Prior MidJersey.news story here: NJ Guard deployed at Capitol sickened by bad food

Sardi’s Catering company released a statement as follows:

“We have the greatest respect for the men and women of the National Guard who bravely serve our
country and continue to protect our nation’s capital. We are proud to serve our food to the National
Guard troops who have deployed to Washington from around the U.S., and we stand by the quality and
safety of the food we deliver to the National Guard troops.

As a trusted provider of nutritious and safe meals for the National Guard, Sardi’s Catering adheres to our
own rigorous standards for food safety and quality, and we are in full compliance with all standards and
requirements in our National Guard Bureau contract as well as state and District requirements.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are required to pre-package individual meals for each recipient at our
own facilities, rather than setting up a kitchen on site. National Guard inspectors visit our facilities and
supporting kitchens regularly to conduct spot checks, ensure our supplies are up to their standards, and
that our food preparation and packaging is clean, safe, and fully compliant with federal regulations. No
issues have been recorded from these inspections.

Every delivery is inspected by an authorized representative of the National Guard and approved for
distribution. We have very clear timestamps on all deliveries indicating the exact time the food is
packaged and leaves our controlled environment, and we instruct the recipient to discard unused food
after four hours. We have no further control over the meals after they have been dropped off to the
National Guard’s Armory.

We are currently providing approximately 5,300 meals three times a day to the National Guard Armory.
When we receive a complaint referred to us by the National Guard, we investigate and take immediate
corrective action. The National Guard has estimated about less than .01 percent of the 1.2 million total
meals we have served since January 2021 have been undercooked. The National Guard has reported no
confirmed cases of foodborne illness. We have received requests from the National Guard to change the
menu — such as adding more protein to the breakfast menu and accommodating special dietary needs
— and we have made every effort to fulfill those requests.

We deliver the meals to the National Guard Armory in bulk, which are then allocated to the units by the
National Guard, so we have no control over the distribution process or the timing. It is not clear why or
how one particular state unit has recorded so many complaints, while there have been comparatively
few complaints from other state units, according to the National Guard. We are committed to providing
exceptional service to all our meal recipients, and we will continue to work closely with the National
Guard to address these concerns.

All of us at Sardi’s deeply appreciate the men and women who are participating in the essential mission
of protecting our nation’s capital. We are a trusted family business and an institution in the Washington
area, with a spotless reputation for quality, service, and integrity. The National Guard continues to
closely monitor the quality and safety of meals provided to its personnel, and we are working closely
with them to ensure our troops continue to have delicious and nutritious meals during their deployment
to Washington.”

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