Faces of Food Safety: Barry Rhodes
Analyst Ensures Food is Safe Before Re-entering U.S.
Barry Rhodes thrives in a fast-paced work environment. He likes the excitement that comes with being an FSIS program analyst and the liaison to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. “There are many aspects to [my] responsibilities, and issues requiring immediate attention that can arise at any second from any angle,” Rhodes said. “This may make the job a little difficult, but I think that makes it exciting.”
"Food defense is an essential component to overall food safety."
As a program analyst in OFO’s Import Inspection Management Division, one of Rhodes’ duties consists of reviewing and processing requests to return rejected exported products back to the U.S. However, before any cargo can re-enter the U.S., Rhodes extensively reviews all requests to identify any food defense or food safety concerns in order to decide whether the shipments are safe for U.S. commerce.
As a FSIS liaison to CBP’s National Targeting Center Cargo and its Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center, Rhodes is the FSIS official with access to CBP’s Automated Targeting System (ATS). ATS is a real-time reporting system that enables Rhodes to review, target and request a “hold” on incoming shipments that are potentially high risk or ineligible from entering the country because of their food safety risk. The hold allows Rhodes to provide instructions to local CBP reviewers at ports of entry and prevents the merchandise from being released into commerce until an FSIS investigator examines the cargo. This is important, Rhodes states, “because the information is received instantaneously.” Before FSIS had access to the CBP databases, the agency used a system called the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) that also provided FSIS the data it needed to identify ineligible shipments, but not as quickly as the ATS does. “Prior to FSIS having access to ACE (about 8 years ago), FSIS would learn about an ineligible shipment by stumbling upon it after it was already in commerce.” Rhodes concludes, “The ATS is more timely and efficient” and FSIS always strives to incorporate technologies to improve in its day-to-day operations and in ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply.
Rhodes has been protecting the food supply for many years. When he was 16 years old, his first job was in a red meat processing facility in rural western Pennsylvania. He spent his summers and vacations working there and continued working there full time after college. After about a year, he joined FSIS and began his career as a poultry inspector. Rhodes worked on the poultry line in Cordova, Md., and in Fredericksburg, Penn. “After that, I came to imports as a relief import inspector based in Newark, N.J. In 2006, I became an Import Surveillance Liaison Officer (ISLO) covering Northern New Jersey and New York City,” he states.
One of his principal duties as an ISLO was to perform in-commerce surveillance reviews at warehouses, distribution centers and other facilities to ensure that imported products were safe, wholesome and legally imported. Part of these reviews included identifying and documenting potential security vulnerabilities. “We would provide this information to the facility along with informational materials that offered guidance on developing a functional food defense plan,” Rhodes states. “Food defense is an essential component to overall food safety,” he continued. A food defense plan allows small and very small plants to document measures to protect food and food production processes from intentional harm. This is a critical way that FSIS helps establishments ensure that products stay safe for the American consumer.
Rhodes’ work in the plants and in the field gives him an advantage as a liaison to CBP. He knows the right person in CBP to contact to request a hold on questionable shipments, informs that person of the FSIS’ specific regulatory authority that pertains to the cargo and provides recommendations on how to handle the shipment. Rhodes then coordinates and deploys an FSIS investigator at the port to examine the shipment and to work directly with CBP to implement FSIS’ recommendations. Additionally, Rhodes communicates directly with FSIS’ counterpart in the exporting country to ensure that products from the country will continue to be safe.
According to Rhodes, “The coolest thing about my job is getting to work with different people from different agencies; sharing information and using data from other agency sources; and working together to accomplish the overall goal of protecting the American public.”