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.
Dr. Ahmad Jilani is a supervisory public health veterinarian and an enforcement, investigation and analysis officer in the Office of Field Operations. His grandfather was also a civil servant focused on safe foods and public health as a city food health officer in their native homeland of Pakistan. When Jilani was six, he would listen to his grandfather talk about “sick foods” and the importance of healthy eating. These stories influenced Jilani’s decision to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and work in public health and food safety.
“Fruits, vegetables, meats, milks and other necessities the public used day-to-day were sold on the streets and in open-air markets in Pakistan and in most Asian countries,” Jilani said.
“When a city health official like my grandfather would inspect these markets, the shopkeepers would hide their expired products or throw them away because the health official would condemn the items and fine the merchants. I knew my grandfather’s job was very important if people would try to avoid getting into trouble.”
Becoming part of the FSIS family
Years later, when in college, Jilani learned about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and knew the Agency would be the obvious choice for his chosen profession, especially because his passions were veterinary medicine, meat inspection, pathology and microbiology.
“In Pakistan, I earned my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in Meat Inspection and General Animal Welfare. Then, I studied in England where I earned a Master’s of Biology degree, followed by a certification in meat inspection from the College of Distributive Trades in London. In 1974, I moved to the United States and worked in pathology and microbiology labs in hospitals in New York,” Jilani said. “Those experiences prepared me to start my career with FSIS.”
Initially Jilani was not able to obtain a position at FSIS, despite his extensive education and experience. He still had more to do, he recalls.
“Even with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, when I came to this country, my pedagogy wasn’t recognized, so I had to complete more training. I enrolled in the Equal Certification Foreign Veterinarians Graduates training, which is equivalent to being a four-year veterinary student,” he said. “Following this training, I had to complete a one-year unpaid internship and had to find employment to live. So, I found work in hospital labs. Luckily, while still completing the internship, I was able to leave the hospital job and begin working at FSIS, and the rest is history, as they say.”
Jilani’s own impact
Jilani has been with FSIS for 31 years and feels that he has a positive impact on the many lives he touches, just as his grandfather did. “I know I play a vital role in keeping the public safe. As a public health veterinarian, it is my responsibility to ensure the food produced is safe and free of any microbial agents that are harmful to the nation’s health,” he said. “When I come to the job every morning, I feel I am going to save many lives in the nation by assuring they will get healthy meat products, which are so essential for human health.”
For more than a dozen years in the early part of his FSIS career, Jilani inspected a variety of red meat species at duty stations across the U.S., including Boston, Delaware, New York and Texas. He has also worked in poultry plants in the Eastern Shore area of Maryland. During those years, Jilani saw a lot of changes with poultry inspection.
“Beginning in 1998, one particular plant in Eastern Shore was first a traditional poultry plant that converted to the New Line Speed Inspection System, and then it changed to a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-Based Inspection Models Project plant,” said Jilani. Since 2015, that same plant has been part of the New Poultry Inspection System. “I’ve been here through all the policy changes and that no matter what inspection system was being used, that food safety responsibilities were met every day,” Jilani said.
Tagelsir M. Mohamed, a Raleigh district frontline supervisor, praised Jilani’s dedication to the Agency and to those they work with. “I’ve known Dr. Jilani in a variety of capacities for many years. He’s able to plan, create, teach in the field of food safety, and is an excellent writer and editor for translating technical information into engaging content. Dr. Jilani has his finger on the pulse of technological trends and provides content that’s both useful and captivating to inspection personnel and industry,” said Mohamed.
Time for colleagues, family and self
Outside of work, Jilani is very involved in the National Association of Federal Veterinarians as a mentor, recruiter and trainer for the organization. Jilani also volunteers at his church and in his community teaching Sunday school, and leads campaigns to fight hunger and donate warm clothing to those in need.
Busy as he may be, Jilani has plenty of time to spend with his wife of 45 years and their four children. Two sons are computer engineers and the other son and daughter followed in their grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by pursuing public health careers (in hospital management and as a trainer for an international food company, respectively). Jilani also loves to travel to other countries and learn about different cultures. He enjoys gardening, and shares with his FSIS team by repotting plant clippings from his cherished office plants and giving them as gifts.
Jilani describes himself as someone with a “deeply sympathetic heart.” Many of his colleagues agree, including Lead Consumer Safety Inspector Rita Hurst. “Dr. Jilani’s contributions to the Agency have also consisted of educating the public about food safety. His skills in these areas have been a great asset in helping others,” said Hurst.
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