Archie Magoulas: A Voice for Food Safety
Argyris “Archie” Magoulas is a technical information specialist in the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education’s Food Safety Education Staff, where he shares food safety knowledge in various ways, including by answering caller questions on the Meat and Poultry Hotline. Follow his family journey to America, and his road from a food science degree to the food industry to FSIS.
For over 17 years, Argyris (Archie) Magoulas has served as a technical information specialist on the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education’s Food Safety Education Staff (FSES). In this role, he provides food safety recommendations, educational services and resources to consumers through the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (via phone, chat and e-mail) and AskUSDA. Magoulas stays up-to-date on developments in food, nutrition, labeling and other issues to effectively address questions on those subjects, not just from consumers, but news media and other stakeholders. To help ensure all team members provide consistent responses on the Hotline, Magoulas researches food safety topics and creates abstracts, written explanations and outlines, as well as articles for the Agency’s knowledge database, AskUSDA. Several FSIS program areas also use the database, which allows for key word searches and consistent responses to questions.
After earning his Food Science and Technology degree at the University of Maryland’s School of Agriculture in 1979, Magoulas sought a job in the food industry. He worked many years as a Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) professional, primarily working with non-meat/poultry foods. As a laboratory control technician, he performed QA/QC checks at establishments that made salad dressings and mayonnaise. Later, at an apple processing plant, he set up the plant’s entire lab and served as QA lab manager. Magoulas also held a QA/QC position with an establishment that processed deli sausage, jerky products, pickled pork and pickled eggs, where he worked alongside a USDA inspector. The transition from non-meat to meat commodities was easy for Magoulas, as the background needed for QA/QC includes the study of all commodities, including meat and poultry.
In his early days with the Agency, senior food safety specialists with the Hotline were Magoulas’ mentors. Today, as a senior specialist, he shares his experience and knowledge with other specialists. He says he and his peers mentor each other, as they all have something important to share with the rest of the FSES team.
Consumer and Customer Focus
As the primary point of contact for the FSES publications program, Magoulas coordinates the distribution of all FSES publications, such as Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer's Guide to Food Safety and the Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook. This public outreach to educators, health care professionals, agricultural fairs, cooperative extension programs and others, provides publications and other materials to further emphasize the Agency’s food safety messages to consumers.
Providing local and national media interviews for significant food safety events – July Fourth, Back to School, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl – are also part of Magoulas’ responsibilities. He likes to include “fun facts” in his food safety interviews, such as the number of chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday (more than 1.4 billion).
Some of the most common questions Magoulas responds to on the Hotline include food product dating (the meaning of “sell by” and “best by” dates); how long foods are considered safe; how best to save leftovers; and freezing food and its effect on food safety. Around the holidays, most calls to the Hotline have to do with preparing a turkey – callers seek advice regarding cooking times, stuffing, getting the temperature of the turkey and other foods right so they are safe to eat, and how to use a thermometer. As the volume of contacts received through the Hotline is highest on Thanksgiving, he and other members of the team take turns every other year working the holiday’s special Hotline hours, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Eastern time. One of the most interesting Hotline calls was from a caller who was traveling with a frozen turkey; she called from the airport to find out if the turkey would be safe to eat for Thanksgiving. The caller was advised that, if not kept properly frozen, the turkey would become dangerous to keep and cook and should be discarded.
Magoulas enjoys working with other program areas in FSIS — and even other federal partners — to ensure callers get the answers they need. For example, a technical question (such as one related to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point requirements) would be forwarded to the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk or AskFSIS. Other calls may be referred to another federal agency such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a question regarding raw milk.
Empowered to be Successful
Magoulas finds his job rewarding, knowing he and his team are preventing foodborne illnesses and educating the public about food safety.