Faces of Food Safety: Shunekia McAuley-Spears, Consumer Safety Inspector
“I love food, and I love science,” says Shunekia McAuley-Spears, an FSIS consumer safety inspector (CSI) in New Orleans, La. McAuley-Spears will celebrate her tenth year with the agency in December. “I have loved every minute of it…I feel personally responsible for ensuring that the plants I inspect produce safe and wholesome products for everybody who buys them, as I always envision that it could be me or anyone of my family members buying these products.”
McAuley-Spears has a four-plant patrol assignment. She typically gets up very early in the morning as her commute from home to work is a little more than an hour each way. Plants in need of having their equipment reviewed before operations can begin (also known as “pre-ops”) are the plants that she visits first. “Pre-ops take precedence, because the plants’ machinery is disassembled, so I have to inspect it first to make sure that it is clean before the plant can begin its operations,” she said. After she inspects the establishment’s equipment, McAuley-Spears walks through the establishment to identify anything that does not meet FSIS’ standards. If something is not up to standard, McAuley-Spears will address the issue directly with plant employees and management.
“I feel personally responsible for ensuring that the plants I inspect produce safe and wholesome products for everybody who buys them...”
These hands on-verification and enforcement activities conducted by CSIs play a critical role in determining whether an establishment’s products can receive the USDA mark of inspection. As such, McAuley-Spears is a true believer in FSIS’ One Team, One Purpose motto because she knows it takes a team of dedicated employees with one goal to protect the Nation’s supply of meat, poultry and egg products.
McAuley-Spears also enjoys being an ambassador for food safety when she is with her family and friends. Every chance her kids (15-year-old Samia and 10-year-old Reginald Jr.) get to talk about their mom and her job, they do. “They remind their friends that I’m a food inspector who doesn’t play around when it comes to food safety,” she said. McAuley-Spears also gifts food thermometers to family and friends. “By having this important position with FSIS, I am able to educate my family, my friends and my kids’ friends on the importance of food safety.”
McAuley-Spears is also the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Southwest Council of Food Inspectors Local 3501. “Being in the union gives employees a sense of support,” she states. “They know that I am honest and fair, and that they can come to me with their concerns without fear of retaliation or being viewed in a judgmental way. For the most part, people just need a little help learning how to speak with their supervisors, and I teach them how to do that.” McAuley-Spears won her second term by being a write-in candidate. She was “surprised and overjoyed” to learn that her colleagues thought so highly of her to elect her again, without her even being on the ballot. McAuley-Spears believes this probably happened because she has a “good rapport with leadership and with peers” and continually gives of her time to others.
Her giving nature also extends to her personal life. Five years ago, she surprised her father-in-law by donating one of her kidneys to him. McAuley-Spears has no regrets about giving that gift of life and states that her father-in-law is doing great. He never had to be on dialysis.
McAuley-Spears is compassionate about her job, the people she works with in the field, her family and her friends. “I absolutely love my job,” McAuley-Spears says.