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Faces of Food Safety: Meet Rita Hurst of the FSIS

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Editor’s note: This is a recent installment in a series of employee profiles being published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

Rita Hurst has worked for FSIS for 33 years. She began her FSIS career at Establishment P-2178 in Georgetown, DE, as a USDA helper — a plant employee who helps USDA inspectors.

In 1983, Hurst applied for and accepted a position as a “when actually employed” (WAE) food inspector. Today, she is the dayshift New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) Lead Consumer Safety Inspector (LCSI) at Establishment P-7927 in Hurlock, MD.

“Every day is different. It can range from things running smoothly to plant breakdowns. No matter what the situation, our team of CSIs always gets the job done to ensure food safety,” said Hurst.

Rita Hurst FSIS inspectorAs an LSCI, Hurst is responsible for a variety of things such as reporting to her supervisor on work assignments that have been performed, preparing schedules and assigning equitable distribution of Public Health Information System tasks. She also schedules the rotation of the carcass inspector and verification inspector roles off-line.

She describes herself as a hardworking, wholeheartedly dedicated employee who strives to ensure that all assigned tasks are properly executed. She attended the Poultry Training for Food Inspectors (Slaughter) class in the 1980s.

“Poultry inspection has evolved over the years and is more science-based now,” Hurst said.

She noted that although inspection methods have evolved, the basic principles of being fair, firm, friendly and polite continues to hold true even today. Hurst applies these skills when interacting with plant personnel and other issues.

Several FSIS colleagues mentored Hurst and helped shape the course of her career. While working with her mentors, Hurst learned different leadership styles, problem-solving approaches and general thought processes used in performing the various roles she has held. Hurst said that she learned something new and positive from every Supervisory Public Health Veterinarian and colleague that she has worked with. These experiences have led to increased knowledge, skills and the ability to handle different situations that can arise on the job and in life.

When asked how she felt about working on the front line of food safety, Hurst was quick to reply.

“My job is important to FSIS and USDA and to the nation because lives are at stake,” Hurst said.

“I deeply care about the public health and ensuring that food is safe for all the sick, the elderly, infants and those whose immune system has been compromised. This is lifesaving work and I feel proud to know that I am assisting in the prevention of foodborne illness and preventing someone from getting ill and perhaps dying. This is a great feeling.”

A lifelong Delaware native, Hurst has a son, a daughter and eight grandchildren. She enjoys spending time with her family and teaching them the importance of the four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill. In her spare time, she volunteers as a weekend minister and enjoys online shopping, eating at good restaurants and playing classic word games and brain exercises on her tablet. She also speaks Spanish.

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