TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - A rat infestation at the commissary at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms has forced the commissary to close, with no timetable for reopening.
The commissary acts as a subsidized supermarket for the approximately 6,000 troops and family members on base, and is run by the Dept. of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
Fortunately, no one has reported food-borne illnesses, according to Cpt. Karen Anne Holliday, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Communication Strategy and Operations Director.
Repeated requests for comment from DeCA were not answered.
But in a prepared statement, DeCA's executive director for Store Operations said Tuesday that DeCA experts are "moving the needle" in reopening the commissary.
"When this pest issue surfaced we immediately sent a team of public health, sanitation, engineer and store operation experts to the store, and they’re working with the installation’s military health personnel and the pest control contractor to reopen the commissary,” Keith Hagenbuch.
The experts are determining how the rats entered the store, plus cleaning the commissary and inspecting the products.
"This is the first commissary closure in 17 years for rodent infestation," Holliday told CBS Local 2/KESQ.
Holliday said the closure has caused issues for families, but will not be reopened until DeCA can take steps that comply with safety and health codes and standards.
"Our Commanding General, Major General William F. Mullen III, will make the final decision on when the commissary will reopen based upon military health inspections," added Holliday.
Prices at the commissary are approximately 15-20 percent less expensive than those off base.
"The base has reached out to local supermarkets to inform them of the closure to allow them to anticipate additional consumers. They have gone above and beyond in support of our military families," explained Holliday. "Our base exchange, which is run by a different agency than the commissary, has increased ordering of basic household goods and food items and is offering them at a discounted rate."
“In order to ensure this doesn’t occur again, we are specifically tailoring integrated pest management training to Twentynine Palms, this store, this environment,” said Lt. Col. (P) Alisa Wilma, DeCA’s director of public health and safety, in a prepared release on Tuesday. "We’re not only controlling this issue today, we’re working specifically to make sure it won’t happen again,” Wilma said.
“We value the trust our customers have in us and we’re working diligently to retain that trust by thoroughly addressing this issue so we can reopen the store, which we will do only after all health and sanitation standards are met,” he said. “It’s been five days since the store was closed, and as the providers of the highly valued commissary benefit, we at DeCA regret the inconvenience this store closure has caused,” said Hagenbuch, in the prepared statement.