Reading about the Foster Farm plant closure in Livingston due to less than a dozen cockroaches first made me blink, it must be a typo. Then I could only shake my head at the absurdity.
Suddenly there was a flashback to my time in the U.S. Navy, off the coast of Vietnam in 1968.
I was the chief medical officer aboard the USS Eldorado. This was the flagship for the amphibious forces. We carried a crew of about 600 and when the admiral was on board there was an additional staff of 500. After evening report the officers adjourned to the wardroom to watch a movie. The popcorn sizzled while the movie projector was set up. This was the era before digital; the movies were reel-to-reel.
As the light came on between reels, there, in all its glory, was a cockroach lugging a piece of popcorn across the floor. The captain, who was sitting next to me, said, “Doc, do you think we have a cockroach problem?”
In fact, we did.
We had not been assigned a corpsman especially trained in cockroach control. Ultimately, back in port we had to do a three-day fumigation starting at the bow and moving to the stern. Literally, these critters were sprinting down the passageways toward the stern. I could see them scurry everywhere. In the end, however, there is no such thing as a roach-free naval ship.
There are thousands of hiding places. There are dozens of galleys and mess halls. They will scatter and hide from the light, and venture out in the dark. Once we got our roach-control corpsman on board we were at least able to keep them from raiding the popcorn.
My rough estimate is that we had hundreds of cockroaches for every sailor. They hid in the folds of cardboard boxes and paper bags. Even with elimination they would be imported back on board very quickly with the first pallet of bananas.
The important bottom line is that no one on my ship, and I dare say the Navy as a whole, has ever contracted any illness from cockroaches. Think about it. Hundreds of roaches per sailor, close quarters and no one gets a sickness related to these millennia-old bugs. That is not to say it is impossible, just a very low probability. One attempts to keep the roach population in check to avoid getting the attention of the captain.
So a total of five roaches were discovered in a huge processing facility that caused the U.S. Department of Agriculture to close it. I would say this reaction was a little over the top. Using criteria like this, all Navy ships should immediately be closed down.
I can only hope that my fellow citizens will view this closure with the common sense it deserves. Also, please practice good mechanical hand-washing (avoiding antibacterial soaps), get your flu shots, cook food thoroughly, air pop the popcorn and have a good chicken dinner.
Robert LeFevre is a former visiting editor and community columnist; contact him at email@example.com