Faces of Food Safety: Des Moines District Office Supervisory Consumer Safety Inspector Michelle Cox
Growing up, all Michelle Cox could think about was being a teacher. She could envision herself in the classroom making a difference in young lives, which she assumed would have a lasting impact. She would become one of those teachers who students would remember forever.
Today, Cox is making a significant contribution as a teacher, but her students are not in the classroom; they are her colleagues within the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Office of Field Operations. Cox is a Supervisory Consumer Safety Inspector, or SCSI, a job that involves supervising and training inspectors. SCSIs such as Cox manage food inspectors, including those who examine meat and poultry in large slaughter plants. They represent management in labor issues, and they promote equal opportunity and safety principles and programs. They also perform a variety of food safety inspection activities. But it is the instruction part of the job that has most captured Cox's heart. "This is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had," she said.
Lifelong love of animals
FSIS was not Cox's first choice of employment. Or second. Or 22nd. She majored in animal husbandry, is an honest-to-goodness cowgirl, having competed in professional rodeo competitions and her way through college was paid for by way of a rodeo scholarship. "Not too many people can claim that," she joked.
The fact that she ended up at an agency that has at the core of its mission ensuring that the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged, is not a big leap. She said she has always had a love and care for animals, and is concerned about treating them humanely.
Corporate loss is FSIS' gain
Cox found her way to FSIS in 2002 after she was laid off from a corporate job. "I was a single mom, and my job had been downsized. The only job I could find at the time was at a cold storage facility" — a facility that she said held FSIS-inspected products that were being exported or shipped domestically. She was a shipping and receiving clerk at the facility. After a conversation with an FSIS inspector on the job, she was encouraged to take the test for a food inspector. "I got the job."
"When I started my federal career, I was assigned to a beef plant. My supervisor at the time encouraged me to be the best inspector
I could be and he challenged me in so many ways. For example, he would give me a scenario to think about and he asked what I thought. From there, we would reason out a solution, using regulations to validate the answers." And sometimes the answers were easier than the demands of the job, she mused.
"If you sit back and take the easy route, success will pass you by. If you jump in with both feet and do all that you can, you will be rewarded both professionally and personally."
Cox is the first to tell you that the work of an inspector is not easy There are the physical demands of the job and the shear burden of having the weight of public health on your shoulders. "I have to tell you that because of the stress and pressure involved as a new employee, I was sometimes ready to throw in the towel, but because of this supervisor's watchful eye, patience and ability to listen, I held on." And it was on that job, she said, that she learned many lessons which would carry her through life, giving her more good days than not.
A decade later saw a rise in the ranks for Cox
Cox said it was persistence, patience and a drive to succeed that has fueled her rise within FSIS. "Success is what you make of it. If you sit back and take the easy route, success will pass you by. If you jump in with both feet and do all that you can, you will be rewarded both professionally and personally."
And Cox has been rewarded for her hard work. In 2006, she was promoted to Consumer Safety Inspector or CSI. In this position, Cox trained new food inspectors and was responsible for making sure that establishments followed their plans for preventing product contamination. Two years later, Cox received another promotion, this time to Supervisory Consumer Safety Inspector — the position she currently holds.
Award Winning Employee
In 2011, Cox was awarded the Administrator's Award of Excellence for the creation of an informal training program for newly promoted CSIs. The program provides an overview of what new inspectors will encounter on the job and what they need to know to be successful. "There is no wiggle room when it comes to protecting the public health. It has to be right the first time."
Cox said she has grown enormously since beginning work at FSIS and has dreams of even greater professional growth at FSIS.
"I enjoy my job. The people I work with every day are great, they make my job easier. I truly feel like I am doing something important by protecting consumers."