Editor’s note: This is a recent installment in a series of employee profiles published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, republished here with permission.
Nicole Suggs is an import inspector and a consumer safety inspector (CSI) in the Philadelphia district. Suggs began her FSIS career 15 years ago, but says it happened by accident. She was attending Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the hopes of one day pursuing a career as a health inspector. When she saw an opening with FSIS for a food inspector, she reasoned that the job seemed comparable to a health inspector, so she applied. She was surprised to learn the jobs were very different.
Suggs’ first stop on her FSIS journey was at establishment M-969 in Greely, Colorado. Once there, she decided to stay, even though it was a long way from Philadelphia. Suggs noted, “In the beginning, I didn’t know the impact the Agency had on the lives of those in America and around the world. I had been an assistant and general manager in food service, but that in no way compared to working in FSIS. I quickly learned that food inspectors are the first line of defense against diseased or adulterated meat and poultry. Now, I feel like a super woman!”
Today, Suggs is aware that both of her roles are vital to fulfilling the Agency’s mission of preventing foodborne illness and of protecting the public’s health. She feels empowered in her position through the training and mentoring she has received over the years and believes it better equips her to perform her job functions.
“The more I know and understand, the better I can do my job,” Suggs said. “With the exception of slaughter inspection, I’m doing a little bit of everything. Functioning in both roles gives me more of a purpose in the Agency.”
Suggs’ import duties consist of inspecting imported products from other countries at various points of entry to the United States, ensuring those products are safe. She does this by verifying certificates, pulling samples and performing product exams.
As a CSI, Suggs inspects small and large plants to make sure they are operating within written sanitation, processing and Hazzard Analysis and Critical Control Points plans. She also ensures the integrity of the USDA mark of inspection on all meat, poultry and processed egg products. “This is the most fulfilling part of my job,” she said. “When you see your family, friends and strangers eating meat products and you are confident they will not get sick because you know you did your job well.”
Suggs feels that it is imperative to remain knowledgeable about the Agency’s directives and notices so she can relay regulations to the plants she serves. With help from frontline supervisors, coworkers or the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk, Suggs equips herself with the most current information.
Suggs’ husband, Courtland, is a veteran of both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. Their 10-year-old twins, Sabian and Saelyn, who she affectionately refers to as “the twin terrors,” help keep the family food safe at home.
“The boys check the temperatures of our meat and poultry dishes,” Suggs said. “Sabian oversees the freezer and Saelyn organizes the pantry when we bring home groceries. They both do a good job of keeping everything in order and properly separated.”
Suggs is vocal about the importance of proper food handling, and she often shares facts and tips with friends and family. Whether it is checking to make sure that meat products are cooked to safe temperatures, hot foods stay hot, and cold foods stay cold, she knows that food safety is crucial.
“Foodborne illness does not discriminate,” Suggs said.
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