Faces of Food Safety: Rachel Johnson-DeRycke
In modernizing food safety for the twenty-first century, FSIS employs a scientific approach to inform policy and reduce foodborne illness. Rachel Johnson-DeRycke, a risk analyst in the OPHS, is a key player in that success.
According to Johnson-DeRycke, risk assessments, risk profiles and similar tools can provide an understanding of how proposed policies can impact public health. “My job allows to me to apply technical work to real-life problems,” she begins. The Risk Assessment and Analytics Staff works hard to communicate the science needed to inform agency decision making. They also publicly share the reports they develop with stakeholders through scientific journals and on the FSIS website.
“Risk assessments require significant amounts of data, and when those data are not readily available, my teammates and I work with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and other and explore other avenues to ensure the necessary research is performed to fill data gaps,” Johnson-DeRycke said.
Johnson-DeRycke joined OPHS 4 years ago and enjoys her work, her colleagues and her contribution to food safety. “I work with some of the most intelligent and talented people that I know, and I am very fortunate to learn from them every day.”
Her co-workers find her to be perceptive and accomplished, bringing a fresh and intelligent perspective to her numerous duties. As the project lead, Johnson-DeRycke works with modelers on E. coli O157, non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) and Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) risk assessments and analyses. She provides project briefings to OPHS and OPPD management, the Data Coordination Committee and the STEC workgroup. FSIS’ One Team, One Purpose attitude is critical for the successful functioning of not only OPHS, but FSIS.
In addition, she works closely with the FDA and ARS on interagency projects, while conducting critical risk assessments that are the key to FSIS policy and public health. She is also involved in initiatives to improve risk communications within FSIS and with the Interagency Risk Assessment Consortium.
Johnson-DeRycke has never shied away from a challenge or an opportunity. “My past experiences often dropped me into situations that I knew little to nothing about. It forced me to learn faster and to make the most of the resources available to me in order to excel,” she said. Her willingness and flexibility to tackle new assignments has been an incredible asset to FSIS, as the agency deals with tough policy decisions to address public health.
“Rachel is resourceful, full of initiative, collaborative, and always positive in the face of obstacles,” said her former supervisor Dr. Denise Eblen, acting deputy assistant administrator for OPHS. “Her ability to communicate complex risk assessments to non-technical audiences is unmatched, and she is a key part of the success of the Risk Assessment and Analytics Staff (RAAS) and OPHS. I hope she has a long career with us.”
"I’m a public health professional first. Protecting public health should be our focus in all we do at FSIS."
Johnson-DeRycke has long had an interest in public health and safety. She earned her Master of Public Health degree from Drexel University. As part of her studies, she has completed a fellowship in quantitative microbial risk assessment and developed worker health and safety plans for the Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism laboratory for the Center for Advancing Microbial Risk Assessment at Drexel University.
A native of Connecticut, Johnson-DeRycke loves to bake; watch old movies; go to the beach, especially the Connecticut shore; and is a huge fan of UConn’s basketball teams, the newly crowned NCAA men’s and women’s national champions.
Despite the complexity of her projects, Johnson-DeRycke never loses sight of the big picture. “It can be easy to lose sight of the impact your work has on individuals and communities, especially working at the macro level of risk assessments or policy development, but it does make a difference,” Johnson-DeRycke said. Her advice to anyone who is considering a career in food safety is to find a way to connect what you do every day to the people you help.
“Food safety is such a diverse area, and I think there is room for all kinds of people, whether a technical person, a people-person or a big-picture person. As long as you care about protecting the public’s health, I think you can find an area of food safety that is a good fit for you,” she said. “I’m a public health professional first. Protecting public health should be our focus in all we do at FSIS.”