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.
Dr. Kathleen McAnally is a frontline supervisor (FLS) in the Chattanooga circuit, which consists of a mix of red meat and poultry plants. As a veterinarian, she’s worked for FSIS the past 33 years. Her team is comprised of Supervisory Public Health Veterinarians (SPHV), Consumer Safety Inspectors (CSI) and Food Inspectors (FI). She provides resources, encouragement and structure to help in-plant personnel perform their duties, such as verifying food safety and humane handling procedures.
“Combining food safety experience and teambuilding skills, the FLS helps a huge agency like FSIS function on a personal level for each SPHV, CSI and FI. We stand in the gap between upper management and the in-plant personnel, and serve as a conduit of information to the field,” said McAnally.
“An FLS can enhance engagement by helping everyone understand the ‘why’ behind what we do. USDA looks to FSIS to be the authority and guardian of food safety. The Nation benefits by having access to the safest food in the world.”
McAnally graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and then continued her education at the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She became interested in working for FSIS while she took a course on meat and poultry inspection. She enjoyed learning about pathology and how it relates to wholesomeness.
As an FSIS employee, McAnally completed food microbiology courses through the Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training’s Center for Learning (CFL).
“The CFL courses opened my eyes to the ever present pathogens and the particular conditions that enhance their growth,” McAnally said.
She completed an externship in pathology, which helps when she is performing postmortem inspections. Additionally, courses in risk management helped her to know how specific tasks need to be prioritized in order to keep the consumer safe.
Each new workday brings surprises for McAnally. She describes a typical day as being “non-typical.” It involves conducting research, correlation and analysis, along with verifying procedures and communication. On a daily basis, she checks staffing to make sure mission support needs can be met, reviews the Public Health Information System for non-compliances and conducts plant visits.
Since 2003, McAnally has been a member of the Tennessee Food Safety Task Force, which is a group of stakeholders who identify food safety issues; enhance communication and partnerships among the groups represented; and educate producers, manufacturers and consumers. The task force includes representatives from industry, government and academia.
“Our big project each year is a conference on topics such as Listeria, food defense, local food and allergens,” McAnally said.
Prior to working for FSIS, McAnally worked in a private small-animal practice. She learned to appreciate how hard the person with a small business has to work to make a livelihood. This experience enabled her to work with very small plants from a perspective of understanding.
McAnally’s mentor is retired FLS Theora Jamison.
“Dr. Jamison helped me learn to prioritize my activities in line with agency objectives. She helped me to learn to really love people by showing me that everyone has a story. She also helped me understand that we always do the best we can, and the only person’s behavior we can change is our own. Dr. Jamison taught me that supervisors have to separate personal feelings, which are words that I live by.
“When I came into the agency I worked with people more experienced than myself, and they helped me succeed every way they could,” said McAnally. “I feel like now I want to give back and help my co-workers the best I can. To quote Dr. Barb Masters, a former FSIS administrator, ‘Your career is what you make it!’”
Each year McAnally speaks to classes, from elementary school to college, about food safety.
“Everyone is interested in the topic of food safety no matter what age. We all have to eat. Our Agency provides excellent outreach materials for any age group. Talking to people about food safety usually is very personal because you are discussing their kitchen habits, which they likely learned from their mother. It is best to talk about concepts and the best practices and not point out what they are doing wrong,” she said.
McAnally’s late husband, Dr. Vernon McAnally, was also a veterinarian with FSIS. They have two children, Scott and Heather, and a grandson, Ethan. In 1993, their children were five and seven years old, the same age range as the four children who had died when an E. coli outbreak was linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers that same year. This incident was considered the most devastating foodborne illness outbreak the U.S. had ever seen.
It was also when work and family came together for the McAnallys. The McAnally children learned to make sure that meat was completely cooked because the tragedy scared their family.
“My children know all about food safety, cooking temperatures, the necessity of immediate refrigeration and how to heat leftovers. It’s a big topic with us,” McAnally said.
Many years later, when daughter Heather was pregnant, McAnally was adamant that Heather not eat food products that may cause listeriosis in pregnant women such as lunchmeat, raw sprouts and deli salads prepared at retailers.
In her free time, McAnally enjoys swimming and, since 2011, she has competed every September in the Southeast Tennessee Senior Olympics in Athens, Tennessee. She competes in the State Senior Olympic Finals in Franklin, Tennessee, every June. She also volunteers as a veterinarian at the Tennessee Valley Cattle Dog Rescue, a non-profit organization that helps find homes for dogs.
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