WASHINGTON — Against a backdrop of elevated security at the U.S. Capitol and a National Guard deployment likely extending into May, the Pentagon and a College Park catering company vigorously denied allegations of food sickening 59 soldiers, after some of the service members sought medical attention.
Through inquiries with Department of Defense officials and a spokesperson for the company, Sardi’s Catering, both the National Guard leadership and the food provider said the soldiers’ ailments could not be definitively tied to Sardi’s.
By late Friday, the National Guard signaled it would not end its contract with the business.
Yet the military’s defense contrasted sharply with demands from a growing list of lawmakers, who voiced bipartisan outcry over food described by U.S. senators and representatives as “undercooked” and “inedible.”
“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,” a Sardi’s spokesperson said Friday. “No issues have been recorded from these inspections.”
On Thursday, 39 representatives called on the contract to be canceled, with troops given a daily allowance for meals instead.
Lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum, ranging from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), called the food quality “unacceptable, unhealthy, and even harmful.”
“There have been a cascade of reports describing the food being provided to our soldiers as poorly prepared, oftentimes inedible, and unacceptable,” the members’ letter to the Pentagon read. “This includes meals that are severely undercooked, moldy, and even filled with metal shavings.”
The company conceded some of its meals were undercooked, writing in a statement that the National Guard estimated less than .01 percent of its total 1.2 million meals were not properly prepared.
“But we’re not seeing a systemic problem,” Maj. Aaron Thacker, a National Guard spokesperson, said. “We don’t know if it’s people not washing their hands, or some other issue, and we have to make fair and unbiased decisions when it comes to maintaining the mission.”
The Guard clarified six soldiers were received as outpatients at military treatment centers and did not require overnight hospital stays.
In an interview Friday, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) rejected the assertions and assurances from National Guard leadership.
“Let’s face it, there were 59 at least who got sick, sick enough to not be able to work,” Kildee said. “Many of them went to the hospital. And I am not about to accept some military, bureaucratic parsing, by saying they didn’t spend the night in the hospital, so it wasn’t as bad.”
SEE: Sardi's full statement below
Members of the Michigan National Guard first reported the food issues in mid-February. The state’s 983 troops represent the largest contingent of state National Guard soldiers protecting the Capitol, about 1 in 5 of the servicemembers present.
“I’ve had conversations with some of theses Guard members, and there’s not that much doubt that this is a problem bigger than a handful of cases,” Kildee said. “When I ask them about it, Guard members are a little reluctant to complain. But when pressing them a little bit, they say, ‘yeah, the food’s not great, it’s been raw.’”
As a response, the caterer said, “Sardi’s has 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.”
The company conveyed it had no further control over the meals after their delivery at the National Guard Armory in Washington.