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Faces of Food Safety: Dr. Courtney Baldwin, Keeping Humans Safe through Veterinary Medicine

It may seem counterintuitive to think that someone would pursue a veterinary medicine degree with the goal of keeping humans from getting sick. Well, that’s exactly what motivated Dr. Courtney Baldwin.Dr. Courtney P. Baldwin

Baldwin is a supervisory public health veterinarian (SPHV) at a poultry plant in Ashland, Ala. She understands that animal health can affect human health, and she explains why here.

“In veterinary medicine you learn about the diseases and parasites that animals can contract, and how they can affect humans,” Baldwin said. “One example is BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] which is commonly known as mad cow disease. This disease directly affects cows, but it often manifests in humans as Variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.”

Baldwin’s Work

On December 1, 2014, Baldwin celebrated her one-year anniversary with FSIS and took the opportunity to reflect on how her job as an SPHV benefits the American people.

“I ensure FSIS regulations are upheld, and that the nation’s meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged,” Baldwin said proudly.

While all of Baldwin’s duties contribute to protecting public health, there is one role in particular that stands out. Baldwin supervises pre-operation checks which consist of making sure that the equipment is clean and sanitary before slaughter operations begin. “We perform random checks on different parts of the plants’ machinery,” she said. “These checks are one way that FSIS ensures that products coming off the processing line are safe.”

A self-described “social nerd,” Baldwin states that she is an ardent learner and relationship builder. “I spend time digesting the regulations, so I can make sure that everyone on this team is following the rules,” she said.

"I would love to be a part of mentoring new SPHVs and reaching out to kids on food safety issues because it has always been my passion to teach, share, problem solve, and help others"

Dr. Courtney Baldwin

As for relationships, Baldwin believes that positive interaction is essential to making sure that everyone on the team is performing at their best. “I build trust and foster communication with everyone on the team because it helps me to deliver constructive feedback on issues of concern more easily, especially if everyone knows that it comes from an honest place,” she continued. “When communicating difficult news, I’ve learned that it’s better received if a good relationship is in place beforehand.”

Future Food Safety Goals

Five years from now, Baldwin sees herself taking a greater role in educating people about the FSIS mission. “I would love to be a part of mentoring new SPHVs and reaching out to kids on food safety issues because it has always been my passion to teach, share, problem solve, and help others,” she said. “Currently, I’m putting together a package of FSIS educational materials, such as the FSIS Food Safety Coloring Book, for my young nephews and niece.” Baldwin also said that she has been encouraging her mother, Deborah Smith Ford, a published author of children  books, to collaborate with her on writing a series of books for kids focused on food safety.

Road to FSIS

The Fort Myers, Fla., native ended up following in her father’s footsteps when she decided to become a veterinarian. Baldwin’s father is Dr. Alton Ford.

“I earned a degree in biomedical engineering from Mercer University in Georgia, and then did graduate work at Mississippi State University in tissue engineering before transitioning to veterinary medicine,” she recalled. “Going to veterinary school was the next logical step in continuing my education in medicine. Needless to say, my dad was happily shocked. I chose to come to FSIS because it combined my passions for learning about medicine and making a difference in keeping our nation’s consumers safe. It was a natural fit.”

Adding to her work experience is the fact that Baldwin’s family farmed their own meat. “When my sister and I were in diapers, our dad would take us hog hunting. To this day, my dad and I still go,” she said fondly. “It was my dad who first taught me about food safety. Food safety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I am proud to be able to make my passion into a career.”

 

Last Modified Oct 17, 2016