CSI James McDonald’s Federal Career Spans 55 Years and Counting
By Suzanne Hensell, OPACE
James McDonald is a consumer safety inspector (CSI) at a processing establishment in Carlstadt, New Jersey. For 55 years, McDonald has helped protect the nation’s food supply, starting with his first job as a food inspector with the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970. After graduating from high school, McDonald knew he wanted to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army, hoping to become a combat medic, but the Army had other ideas. After basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he received orders to Chicago, Illinois, where he underwent food inspection training for two months. He was then assigned to be a food inspector at Fort Snelling in Minnesota, in both processing and slaughter establishments in the stockyards there.
Transition to FSIS
While serving as an Army food inspector, McDonald noticed USDA had a presence in the plant. His Army experience checking labeling, packaging and product specifications made him a natural for a food inspection job with FSIS. He knew he wanted to continue his career in food safety after his discharge from the Army, and his local unemployment office helped him apply to FSIS.
From 1971 to 1980, McDonald worked as an FSIS food inspector in slaughter plants for multiple species. In 1980, he continued his FSIS career and began working in processing establishments, an assignment he continues to this day. McDonald has no immediate plans to retire; performing his job makes him feel great. “That’s why I have stayed so many years protecting the nation’s food supply. Working with all the other inspectors and helping them gives me a sense of achievement. Sometimes it works the other way, and they help me. I love ensuring everyone’s food is safe,” said McDonald.
FSIS inspector Pat Richards, now retired, mentored McDonald, teaching him about labeling, product preparation, processing and formulations. Said McDonald, “He could remember every directive and regulation! A lot of inspectors went to him for guidance and for help figuring out formulations.” Now McDonald gets satisfaction from helping new inspectors and showing them the proper procedures so they can understand all aspects of the regulations and complete their job properly.
FSIS Core Values Exemplified
McDonald believes he demonstrates several FSIS core values. “I would say I am solutions-oriented because I get the job done by figuring out what policy is required and working with others at the plant to finish the job.” Collaborative is another core value McDonald demonstrates every day on the job. “I work with many FSIS inspectors from other parts of the world, including the Middle East, South America and Asia. We are all working together for the same goal: food safety.” McDonald feels empowered to be successful in protecting public health through online training courses in AgLearn and through the help he receives from his supervisors when needed. McDonald recently reviewed the latest edition of 9 CFR and said, “You never stop learning in this career.”
Acting Frontline Supervisor Dr. Brenna Sullivan, McDonald’s supervisor, said, “When I first met CSI McDonald, I was inspired by his high-level energy and commitment to the agency’s mission. As his supervisor, I admire his accountability and team-oriented mindset. CSI McDonald always volunteers to take on newly hired inspectors and allows them to shadow him. He also goes above and beyond. I recall when he made worksheets for calculations regarding percent yield, shrink and net weights for inspectors shadowing him — those worksheets and practice examples eased the minds of the newly hired inspectors who may have found consumer protection calculations daunting. I believe I can speak for the entire Paterson Circuit when I say that we are truly grateful for CSI McDonald’s hard work and commitment to assisting new inspectors in the agency!”
McDonald and his wife, Lori, have two adult children, a son and a daughter, and one 17-month-old grandson. August 2023 is a busy month for the McDonald family; he and Lori celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary, McDonald turns 75, and Lori’s birthday is also this month.
He enjoys teaching friends about food safety, especially proper handling when cooking or barbequing, cooking meat to the proper internal temperature and the dangers of cross-contamination. In his spare time, McDonald can be found fishing for bluefish and blackfish at the nearby Jersey Shore or fishing for salmon in Oswego, New York. He is also passionate about gardening; he grows vegetables such as hot peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, corn and green beans, as well as spices like basil, oregano and sage. You can also find him in the kitchen, where he prepares chicken parmesan, homemade soups and chicken pot pies. He enjoys surprising Lori with his culinary creations.