Faces of Food Safety: Victoria Usher
For Victoria Usher, an Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit (OIEA) investigator, life is all about balance, though the separation between work and life blurs as she incorporates her job into her avid volunteerism.
A 4-H leader, therapeutic horse-riding organizer and mother of a special needs child, Usher spends large portions of her free time working with children. Yet her support of the food safety mission is always at the forefront of her mind as she incorporates food safety education and outreach into her volunteerism at every chance. In so doing she helps train a new generation about safe food handling practices.
“I’m very fortunate that my three worlds—my job, my family and my volunteerism—cross over quite a bit,” Usher said. “My work involves food from the time it leaves the plant until it reaches the consumer. I’m proud of what I am able to do.”
Usher first learned about FSIS while in college at Penn State University. The college’s Animal Science Program had FSIS inspectors on duty, and it offered students who were interested in domestic animal species the opportunity to develop basic and applied knowledge in biological and physical sciences, nutrition, genetics, reproduction, physiology, economics, business management, agronomy and animal products.
While a student, Usher also worked as an office assistant to a local veterinarian, and an FSIS veterinarian medical officer (VMO) visited often. The VMO encouraged Usher to take the Civil Service Exam (required at that time when applying for a federal position) and apply for an FSIS position.
In 1981, Usher began her career with FSIS as an intermittent employee in a red meat slaughter facility in what was then the Harrisburg area of the Northeast Region. Usher then became a slaughter inspector for 6 years, followed by a processing inspector position, which she did for 16 years. Afterward, she became an enforcement investigations and analysis officer (EIAO) for 10 years. She has been in her position as an EIAO in the Northeast Region for a year and a half.
"My work involves food from the time it leaves the plant until it reaches the consumer. I’m proud of what I am able to do."
“I’ve enjoyed all of my positions at FSIS, but I think this one is my favorite,” Usher said, referring to her current position. “I’ve worked in every type of facility, except for in a poultry slaughter plant. I feel like I’m in a position in which I can take advantage of everything that I have learned in my career.”
In each step of her career she has confronted a new aspect of food safety and has taken on new challenges.
“In my first position as a slaughter inspector, I looked at carcasses for abnormalities; as a process inspector, I learned that each plant uses intricate mathematical equations in making its products; as an EIAO, I saw how a food safety program worked in establishments as a whole, and I also reviewed facilities’ HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) processes,” she said. “As an investigator, every day is different. My daily activities can include locating products that were involved in a recall, reviewing a firm’s food security system and performing surveillance.”
As stated above, one thing that Usher does in her off hours is to work as a therapeutic horse-riding program instructor. Her son, Sam, participates in the program. She also encourages students with special needs from her son’s school (and their teachers and parents) to participate in the program’s activities. During group meetings or camping trips, Usher conducts presentations and answers food safety questions. She especially likes teaching participants about the four food safety steps: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill from the the Food Safe Families campaign. Usher distributes FSIS food safety publications, like the Food Safe Families Activity Book and How Dad Got Sick, to the kids and the Kitchen Companion to the parents.
Usher has been volunteering with 4-H for 34 years. “I have as much fun as they do!” Usher exclaimed. “It makes me feel good, and I’ve always tried to help because it’s important to teach all kids about food safety.”
Marrying her work duties and her personal passions means Usher draws more enjoyment from both bringing benefit to the agency, which values her dedication, and to the children she volunteers with, who learn healthy habits they can take with them throughout life.