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Faces of Food Safety: Meet Kari Johnstone 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.


Kari Johnstone
Photo courtesy of USDA

For over 18 years, Kari Johnstone has been dedicated to food safety. Specifically, Johnstone serves as a supervisory public health veterinarian (SPHV). Johnstone begins her typical workday by ensuring that the inspection line is fully staffed before touring the evisceration department to ensure all inspections are carried out correctly. She then performs presentation checks and verifies Good Commercial Practices, which involves observing the appropriate handling of live poultry. Johnstone understands how necessary it is to protect the public from potentially adulterated food. She explains how the relationship between the poultry industry and the American people is changing. “Food safety is growing in importance to the public. The public demands more information from USDA and FSIS. The public has become more involved in what happens to food in processing.”

Johnstone is a capable, compassionate team member whose talents and passions enrich her professional work and who work alongside her. She firmly believes in being personable and in the power of spirited teamwork. “When I am doing presentation verifications and standing next to the Food Inspector on the line, I ask how they are doing and how the birds look. I really work to promote the idea of the inspection team.” Johnstone said when describing her everyday work process.

Success in the workplace
A proponent of synergy in the workplace, Johnstone attributes much of her circuit’s success to collaboration. “My work unit meetings with the team are conducted as discussions. I want their ideas and points of view to resolve any issues we may be having. It’s been effective. We are all in this together, and I truly want everyone to feel they make a difference.” Johnstone strives to work collaboratively and be both a source of confidence and pillar of strength for her coworkers, a great demonstration of the Agency’s core value of collaboration. “I try to be positive and uplifting. I want to do my best at the job and carry my share of responsibilities. I want my coworkers to feel at ease and know that I will handle situations that arise. I put myself in other’s shoes and treat them as I would want to be treated,” said Johnstone.

She values professionalism, but also recognizes the power of humor in the workplace. “I love to talk to inspectors and my fellow SPHVs and sometimes I do talk their ears off. I really enjoy making everyone laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. I take my job seriously, but if I’m going to be somewhere for eight hours or more, I’m going to enjoy it.” Johnstone says, explaining the fulfillment she receives from working for FSIS and being a “people person.” She feels lucky to have a group of coworkers who are truly sincere, hard-working individuals.

Presently, Johnstone is in the process of partnering with the National Association of Federal Veterinarians to improve communication between the Federal veterinarians within the agencies. In 2017, Johnstone was awarded the title of “Best Supporter of Employee Wellness,” recognizing her constant efforts to uplift the health and wellbeing of those who work around her.

Before coming to FSIS, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Performance with the Flute from Oklahoma Christian University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Pittsburg State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology from Lester E. Cox School of Medical Technology. Upon becoming board certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, she worked as a medical technologist in clinical microbiology, virology and hematology before graduating with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1997 from Louisiana State University. Johnstone practiced veterinary medicine privately in Bentonville, Arkansas, prior to beginning her career with FSIS. She credits this experience with teaching her to work flexibly and to think quickly, two concepts that she applies to her work each day at FSIS.

A talented musician
Johnstone is not just a dedicated public servant, she is also a gifted musician. She performed her first flute recital from memory at the age of 11. Johnstone would go on to receive a full-tuition music scholarship to Oklahoma Christian University and pursue a successful career as a professional flutist. She continues to perform professionally through various outlets in her community and hopes to focus on music during her retirement. She also recently competed in the Shrineman Olympic triathlon in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Johnstone spends her free time with her husband Brian Johnstone and their two Dalmatians, Tango and Almighty Thor. An avid health enthusiast, she encourages others to pursue fitness as the Texas Public Health Veterinary Team President of the USDA-Agriculture Running and Walking Club.

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