The National Guard will stick with its current food contractor after calls from more than a dozen lawmakers to sever ties following reports of undercooked food, laced with metal shavings and worms, being fed to troops defending the U.S. Capitol.
"It is completely unacceptable that our men and women serving in Washington D.C. are being hospitalized due to the food they're being provided," states a letter from 14 House members to National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson.
To feed the thousands of troops on the D.C. mission, the Guard awarded an $11.5 million contract to Sardi's Catering in College Park, Maryland, according to Maj. Matt Murphy, a Guard spokesman. But now there are 5,200 Guardsmen in D.C., versus 26,000 at the mission's peak. Murphy said the Guard is continuing with the contract.
ABC 7 WXYZ in Detroit first reported that nearly 75 meals were thrown out Sunday after metal shavings were found; other meals were undercooked, making service members sick. Some posts on social media showed live worms in the food. A staff sergeant informed ABC that the troops were told not to eat the food for two days and were given Meals, Ready to Eat instead.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate the matter. In a letter sent to her Wednesday, he wrote, "Some troops have even reported vomiting in the Senate parking lot. ... Furthermore, the provision of this food, whether intentional or not, warrants a thorough investigation."
A spokesperson for Sardi's Catering said that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the company is required to pre-package individual meals at its own facilities instead of setting up a kitchen on site for the troops. It's unclear why the catering company can't use the Washington, D.C., National Guard armory's kitchen or why the Guard can't facilitate a spot for the workers to cook.
Each food delivery is inspected by a National Guard representative before being approved for distribution.
"We have no further control over the meals once they are dropped off. ... 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. ... 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," the catering company's spokesperson said.
The Army's top enlisted leader called the food quality "unacceptable" and said the Guard has designated more staff for food inspection.
"I'm working closely with the Guard [senior] enlisted leaders and am confident in the immediate, preventative actions they're taking," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said in a statement Wednesday.
Murphy said 50 service members have been treated for gastrointestinal issues. Six were treated as outpatients at military treatment facilities; others were handled by military medics. The sick troops were from Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey.
"The firsthand accounts and pictures of undercooked food being served clearly shows that what is being given to Michigan's service members is unacceptable," according to a statement from the Michigan National Guard.
Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., wrote in his own letter to Hokanson and Army Secretary John Whitley that the food issue has become so bad, soldiers and airmen are having to spend their own money on meals. He called the incident a "horrible mismanagement of basic nutrition."
National Guard troops have been defending the Capitol since a pro-Trump mob assault on Jan. 6. It is unclear when the Guard's mission will end. U.S. Capitol Police believe there could be a second attack on Thursday; March 4 is the date some far-right conspiracy theorists believe former President Donald Trump will seize power and return to the White House.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include comment from the catering company.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.