ARCHIVE: Meet Pickle-Eating Champ, CSI Joe Smith
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Joseph Smith, a consumer safety inspector (CSI) in the Chicago District, has been with FSIS for almost ten years. He began his career with the agency in February 2013 as an intermittent employee — working only when an inspector was out sick or on annual leave — and has worked his way up to his current CSI position.
Life as a CSI
In his role as a CSI, Smith helps ensure the commercial supply of meat and poultry is safe, wholesome and correctly packaged and labeled by completing tasks identified by FSIS’ Public Health Information System (PHIS). Tasks are populated through a PHIS algorithm for different processing categories and Smith inspects different aspects of the establishment’s food safety system to ensure they meet regulatory requirements. PHIS automatically sends Smith updated tasks to be completed based on changes in production.
Knowing how to complete these tasks is a result of his Inspection Methods training and years of experience as both food inspector and CSI. In his previous role as a food inspector, Smith checked every single item that came before the inspection stand. As a CSI, he is more focused on the inspection of the food safety system being implemented in the establishment — the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. He also ensures compliance with sanitation standard operating procedures and sanitation performance standards to prevent contamination or adulteration of product.
Smith believes continuing education is important and has taken classes to further his knowledge in food safety. This includes online courses through AgLearn (USDA’s online learning system), and a HACCP course through North Carolina State University. “I love to learn — when you learn, you can teach. When you teach, you learn,” said Smith. Through the years, Smith has had several mentors that provided guidance, starting with Dr. Michael Marciniak when he was an intermittent employee to his current mentor, FLS Dr. Heath Williams. “Every mentor had something to teach me,” said Smith. As he has grown in his knowledge, he in turn, has been able to help others.
Smith contends that FSIS’ best resource is its people. He explains, “I still remember my on-the-job training with Inspector Ryan Frisch. He asked me a question and I gave the correct response, but he just looked at me for what felt like an eternity. I panicked and he told me I needed to trust my own judgement — a lesson well learned. Now I do that to those I teach.”
Smith believes teamwork is a crucial part of any food safety career. “Everyone comes together as a team to achieve the unifying goal of food safety. I am lucky to have worked with a community of supportive people with shared ideals,” said Smith. He explains that communication is key to identifying and correcting problems when something goes wrong, and to effecting change to prevent future problems.
Supervisory Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Sharon Weatherspoon is Smith’s supervisor. Dr. Weatherspoon said, “Joseph Smith is undoubtedly one of a kind. He is energetic, talkative and truly passionate about his work. Joe has become increasingly receptive to my encouragement to find solutions that hold the plant accountable to food safety. This collaborative effort allows him to grow as a CSI and empowers him to make sound decisions.”
Smith’s Future with FSIS
Smith sets goals for himself. In less than ten years, his FSIS career has progressed from intermittent employee to food inspector, to CSI. While he enjoys his current work as a CSI, he hopes to become an enforcement, investigations and analysis officer within the next few years. Smith will work towards earning a promotion to FLS, and eventually, a deputy district manager position; perhaps someday even, the Secretary of Agriculture. Said Smith, “I want to pursue a constant progression to affect change in a positive way. The higher I am able to go, the more I will be able to help FSIS succeed in our mission.”
Smith and his wife of seven years, Amber, have a three-year-old daughter, Arya. While he plans to teach food safety to his daughter when she is a bit older, he concedes that the extent of his food safety advice for Arya to date has been, “Don’t eat that; it fell on the floor.”
He acted in several murder mystery events organized by his wife, Amber, and hosted by the North Olmsted Kiwanis Club to raise money for several community playgrounds. Smith also enjoys attending medieval events with his family. Most notably, Smith was the Greater Cleveland Volunteers Cleveland Pickle Fest®, pickle eating champ for 2021. View Smith's Cleveland Pickle Fest® commercial to see what all the excitement is about!