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Faces of Food Safety: Meet Aaron Strickland of 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, republished here with permission.

Arron Strickland has worked for FSIS for six years and currently serves as the lead consumer safety inspector (LCSI) at Establishment P-40183 in Kinston, North Carolina. Strickland’s responsibilities include ensuring meat and poultry products produced by the establishment are wholesome and safe for consumers.

Aaron Strickland, far left, shows how to properly pack a poultry parts sample for shipping to a lab for testing. Looking on are, from left, Consumer Safety Inspectors (CSI) Jeff McNeil, Sylvia Gillis, Johnnie Smith and Jason Kelly. Photo courtesy of USDA

Strickland is responsible for training other consumer safety inspectors (CSIs) to perform their basic duties, which include: performing sampling, hazard analysis applications and sanitation standard operation procedure checks. It is imperative that Strickland and his team check for residue and foreign objects that could contaminate the poultry products.

During a typical workday, Strickland concentrates on overseeing staff and using the Public Health Information System to catalog the day’s necessary tasks. Strickland’s diligence and communicative working style is key to ensuring the prevention of foodborne illnesses. When asked to describe himself as an employee, he simply stated, “Quiet and methodical. Everything I do has a purpose.”

After being asked where he envisioned himself in five years, he expressed that he appreciates learning, reading and analyzing information and hopes to become an Enforcement, Investigations and Analysis Officer for the agency.

Born for food safety
Strickland knows the importance of his role in protecting public health. He sees himself as being on the front line of product safety and was proud to be an essential component in the effort to prevent health hazards.

“I’m satisfied that I have the opportunity to do something that I enjoy, and which also benefits the world,” he said.

Strickland explained that he is doing “exactly what I was born to do.” Throughout his career he has earned multiple commendations for his work, including a recent promotion and selection into the FSIS Leadership Exploration and Development Program.

Surviving the worst
Before coming to work for FSIS, Strickland began his career in food safety working as a meat and poultry inspector for the North Carolina Meat and Poultry Program. There he learned industry standards, acquired valuable training and discovered his passion for food inspection. Strickland started at a small swine plant and within nine months he was promoted to a large company’s plant in Garner, North Carolina.

While working at the plant as an inspector in 2009, there was a deadly explosion that occurred at the processing facility. An ammonia leak killed three people and sent 38 to the hospital. Strickland survived the incident and is in good health. However, he emphasized how important it is for workers to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

“You don’t know what is going on in other rooms,” he said. “It’s crucial for workers to have adequate hearing safety to distinguish between a large load being dropped and an explosion. You just have to be familiar with the plant and know what is happening in the facility.”

Communication and tools for success
Strickland encourages anyone who enjoys learning to consider FSIS as a place to work, as there are countless opportunities to continue their occupational education. Strickland also states that FSIS encourages and assists inspectors’ personal learning endeavors and fosters professional success through multiple programs.

Aaron Strickland

“Training is ongoing and always available through AgLearn. The resources available are endless via the InsideFSIS site, askFSIS, regulatory education seminars, and policy and guidance are always helpful,” he said. “Tools like calculation aids for performing net weight, batter and solution checks are easily accessible on a laptop.”

As a leader, he understands the importance of valuing the other members of his team. He describes his staff as, “A group of unique individuals who are ready to reach their potential.” In order to help each individual realize this potential, Strickland takes personal interest in each of his coworkers, and encourages them to be, “The best version of themselves that they can be.”

Strickland went on to say that he is always learning, explaining that, “I try to learn something from every individual he works with.” Though humble and composed in his work, Strickland is certainly not shy about living his values. “Live honestly, selflessly and respect everyone.”

The North Carolina native and his wife Ruby have two sons. In his spare time, Strickland enjoys woodworking and watching his sons play football. He also enjoys teaching his friends and family about the importance of food safety.

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