NAS: the guardians of Italian health

(To Andrea Cucco)

They act on the whole national territory and - military - target public health. We often hear about them in the media and are unquestionably a point of reference. Let's talk about NAS, an acronym that inspires confidence and thanks to which we know we can shop with a certain serenity.

To get to know them closely we met Major Marco Datti, head of the NAS Command office.

Who do the Antisophysication and Healthcare Units depend on?

We have two dependencies: one functional from the Ministry of Health, having duties to protect the health of the citizen, one hierarchical (from the military line) from the General Command / specialized units division / Specialized mobile units command.

From the Ministry of Defense, maybe on missions abroad?

There are some military personnel employed but our main task is the protection of health through food safety and the control of spending and health services.

Do you also work in competition with other Forces?

Absolutely. With the territorial weapon, for example, in the case of coordinated wide-ranging services, in which it is necessary to control national or ethnic exercises. We work with the inspection services of the ministry and the ASL.

However, exclusive skills on ...

Food and Healthcare. The control is not only on the pharmaceutical sector, it is also on the quality of services rendered (hospitals, rest homes or nursing homes), on health services (e.g. dental offices).

Is the staff enough?

It is adequate. We can use, in case of need, the territorial weapon. We are 1000.

We are implementing training courses: our marshals have a university background and already have a short degree. Each year we specialize in at least 45.

The boys we select are sent to take a 40-day course at the University of Tor Vergata in collaboration with the Ministry of Health; at the end there is an examination by university teachers before being sent to the departments throughout the national territory for a six-month internship, alongside more experienced and senior staff.

After the internship they are called back to Rome for the so-called "follow up": an exam with the discussion of a short paper.

1000 people for the whole national territory are not few?

It's hard. Let's say we are busy.

Often someone sees us as "those of mozzarella" ... After many years of service I can say with certainty that it is a misleading image. Ours is a very high professionalism.

With all the companies that are in your control target, wouldn't you need more staff?

Having twice as much would not mind! With the good organization of the weapon, however, we are able to meet the needs.

Are courses given to immigrants who want to open businesses in Italy?

It is not a matter of our competence, it concerns Municipalities and ASL

I guess - sometimes - the national standards are far from those of the countries of origin ...

This is not always the case. Maybe it happened in the past, the cultural gap was greater. Today, beyond a few "pockets of resistance", we have very high quality ethnic exercises that are very well kept and exercises - national - sometimes very badly.

Your field of action is vast. Do you have a database of checks to schedule the checks?

Organization is fundamental. Monthly we dedicate ourselves with greater attention to a specific sector of the production chain: wine and wine products, oils, tourist villages, rest homes, etc.

We work hard on reporting citizens. The level of attention on certain issues has greatly increased in recent years.

Do you go without fail?

Most reports are "on time". They occur by ordinary people but also by organizations in the area: consumer associations, producers, trade associations, the judicial authority.

Then of course, there is also a percentage - minimal - of people calling out of envy or revenge, maybe for a discount not obtained ...

Do you have a specific number?

No, 112 is enough or the contacts that can be found on the Arma website.

On the portal of the ministry of health you can find almost all the news on the activities we carry out (

Let's talk about companies that deal with food. What are the most frequent infringements?

Beyond structural deficiencies such as unsuitable premises, lacking the necessary or undersized facilities, there are hygienic deficiencies such as incorrect planning of cleaning or sanitation.

Criminal offenses are the poor preservation of food or the clandestine provenance of products.

Can the management of personnel affect the quality of the products?

Adequate professional training of staff is essential. I think it's the main problem for many companies, regardless of size.

Employees must be prepared for their tasks but also motivated. People prepared on paper but not motivated lead to mistakes.

Training is compulsory and self-control systems and procedures exist, but if the theory is not translated into practice it remains an end in itself. Let me explain: if a food that has to follow a certain path, follows another or there is cross-contamination (contact with contaminated surface, with other food or the expected temperature is not maintained), any quality, even high, is thwarted .

This applies from activities of very modest dimensions, such as a small bar, to large industry, where obviously the level of safety is much higher: standardized procedures, sealed production circuits ...

Are the penalties adequate?

We are talking about several thousand Euros for the administrative ones up to the criminal ones in case the compromise of the food can endanger health.

The penalties today are uniform at European level, there are hardly any differences at the local level.

On average, how many controls can each business see in a given period of time?

We must dispel a belief: ordinary control belongs to the ASL, we are outside of those checks and we do not overlap. So our subsequent checks in a company could take place after years, as a few months ...

What about online drug sales?

First of all, one aspect must be underlined: the online sale of drugs (except over the counter) is not allowed. In Italy, drugs can only be purchased in pharmacies or through the related online sites that carry the logo and authorization of the Ministry of Health.

Unfortunately then on the internet you will find everything. The interest and the economic volume in the sale of drugs is enormous and the regulations, if they sometimes differ in some European countries, let alone among non-European countries! Let's talk about East, Latin America, Asia ...

What are the most sought after products?

There is a flourishing trade, especially as regards erectile dysfunction drugs, with crazy health risks! If you do not buy through guaranteed channels, there is no certainty about the authenticity of the drug. At best there will be no effect, at worst the active ingredient could be even tens of times higher than expected.

We seized erectile dysfunction products produced in India that had 30 times the expected active ingredient! Some may smile at the thought, but when you stay dry the hilarity is lost ...

We then think of more important drugs in which there are no guarantees on the active ingredients, on the purity or on the sterility of the tools used in the production. In short, those looking for a product to get better - perhaps after some time - risk serious or very serious consequences on health.

How do you control shipments?

We also work together with the Customs and manage to block a large number of shipments. Obviously something always runs away from the shirts, given the hundreds of thousands of packages in daily transit.

Furthermore, every month, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, we obscure several dozen sites.

It is important that citizens avoid shopping on non-certified sites. It is certainly done for financial savings or maybe for confidentiality, but you can find yourself involved in investigations by the prosecutor: they are illegal purchases in all respects.

Who controls the controller? The ASLs, as mentioned, are those in charge of regular checks, but sometimes, when effective (and not on paper), the inspections seem to be "elastic" if not even "announced" ...

We too! Because if our control finds irregularities in a structure, after maybe the ASL has passed a few days before saying that everything is in place, there is something wrong ... We are paid for it too!

Daily work?

Ours is a fascinating activity and every day you learn something: even if it may seem repetitive (the legal framework is always the same), every single inspection teaches something. The conscience of the operators has also changed: while before the objective was purely economic, today it is very attached to the reputation and therefore to the good result of an inspection. Then there is always the operator who wants to "fool you" ... It is the old game between guards and thieves.

Citizens' reports are continuous and punctual. Thanks to these, our effectiveness has improved in recent years.

The acronym NAS is now known by every citizen and given our task - the protection of health, a primary asset - the certificates of esteem and thanks are daily.

Can reports be anonymous?

Yes. We also accept them anonymously. They are an excellent starting point. It is then up to us to understand if it is a report of actual irregularities or small "revenge", even among operators!

The department therefore more in close contact with the Italians?

We are very popular. It is a heavy duty to continually receive, evaluate and process calls.

Of course, if 3 or 4 reports on the same activity arrive ...

Even more! A large city would be impossible to control. If, for example, we become aware that a particular restaurant has caused disturbances to customers after consuming tuna dishes, we think that the fish has a slightly too high stamina content, it is not fresh or poorly preserved. And let's intervene!

Photo: Carabinieri weapon