Faces of Food Safety: CSI Michael Piotrowski
Many people take the USDA mark of inspection for granted, not fully understanding what it takes to ensure that our food is safe. The mark of inspection actually signifies that the product was produced within a comprehensive inspection system, fully enforced by the combined efforts of our talented and motivated FSIS team, and that the FSIS team was able to find that the product is not adulterated. The USDA mark of inspection is what consumers see when they go to the supermarket. FSIS consumer safety inspectors (CSIs) are some of the members of our FSIS team who supervise the application of the mark of inspection to regulated products. CSIs are in charge of most non-slaughter activities, such as reviewing records, observing plant operations, conducting hands-on verification and enforcement activities and ensuring that food safety and humane handling regulatory requirements are followed.
Mike Piotrowski, a CSI out of the Philadelphia district office, is one such team member. Piotrowski makes sure that plants are in compliance with FSIS regulations and ensures that the integrity of the mark of inspection is maintained. The work done by Piotrowski and his co-workers should give consumers confidence in the mark of inspection. When consumers see the mark, they can be assured that the meat, poultry and processed egg products were produced under FSIS inspection. “Without that mark, consumers are not adequately protected,” says Piotrowski.
“My work motivates me every day because I see that we can make a difference,” he said. Piotrowski had his first encounter with FSIS while he was in college when his mother worked at a butcher shop. It was her influence that made him want to work as a CSI – she was a believer in sharing her knowledge of meat with her customers. Throughout his career, Piotrowski has placed great value on the exchange of information, especially as it relates to shared interests and goals. He shares his knowledge of the food safety system and important regulations with new inspectors and provides them with opportunities to learn more about the importance of food safety. “We have people here from every background,” said Piotrowski. “In my role, I work to make sure that all the members of our team – especially those who are just starting out – have all the tools that they need to do their job, including an understanding of their own roles and the regulations that protect public health.”
“My work motivates me every day because I see that we can make a difference.”
Piotrowski does not stop at just doing a good job as a CSI and mentor – he finds time to serve as the chairman for the Philadelphia Circuit Safety Committee. In this position, he is responsible for a variety of safety tasks. He makes sure safety notices are posted so that inspectors have the necessary information to protect their own safety, while maintaining the safety of our food supply. He also runs a program organizing working groups to encourage inspectors to participate in regular hearing tests. The noise levels within plants can be high and have the potential to create a risk for inspectors’ hearing. The agency takes safety seriously too. Tests are provided to all FSIS employees, and the agency will reimburse travel expenses where necessary. (Arrangements are made through your supervisor.)
Another safety program Piotrowski emphasizes is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OHSA) Lockout/Tagout program. Under this program, whenever a company brings in new equipment, procedures and protocols must be implemented to make sure the new equipment is safe. And when it is scheduled for service, it must be completely separated from power sources during the time FSIS is inspecting the equipment. This is important, as many of the machines – grinders for instance – pose a serious safety threat to inspectors if they are accidentally turned on during inspection. Under the Lockout/Tagout program, Piotrowski ensures that companies follow proper procedures.
Between working on the safety committee, monitoring the OSHA program and mentoring younger CSIs, Piotrowski works every day for the sake of public health. When asked what message was most important for him to share about his experience, he put it simply: “The public doesn’t know there are people out there every day protecting them and their food. Without food inspectors in the field, there would be no mark of inspection. Food inspectors put great care and dignity into their work and are truly the unsung heroes.”