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Faces of Food Safety: Marianne Gravely — A "Voice" of Food Safety Sense

ictured, from left: Marianne Gravely, Janice Munoz-Lopez and Alexandra Medina staff a food safety education booth during a food safety outreach event
Pictured, from left: Marianne Gravely, Janice Munoz-Lopez and Alexandra Medina staff a food safety education booth during a food safety outreach event. The Wheel Game is used to educate consumers about food safety. Photo courtesy of OPACE.

In 30 years, Marianne Gravely has responded to a lot of food safety questions. As an Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education senior technical information specialist on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, Gravely has talked consumers out of unwise food safety practices, such as washing their turkeys with soap or brining the birds in the bathtub. She has also been instrumental in educating the masses about food safety and the resources FSIS has available for them, which aids in keeping them and their families safe.

It Began in 1985

The Hotline was established in 1985, just three years before Gravely joined the Agency as an intermittent employee. For three months, Gravely worked one or two days a week with no plans of staying on after the short stint ended. However, in the following months, she became a permanent part-time employee, and found her role expanded from writing and editing food safety educational materials to also responding to the Agency’s webmail. In 1998, Gravely decided to leave the Agency for personal reasons. She decided to stay after she and her supervisors mutually agreed on a new work schedule that met both Gravely’s and the Agency’s needs. In 2012, she became a full-time employee.

Gravely has seen a lot of changes in the three decades she has worked on the Hotline, but one thing remains consistent — her team’s ability to adapt to the latest trends in technology and provide exceptional customer service.

"My colleagues are the secret to the success of the Hotline. The dedicated team helps people, and we work well together. I am fortunate that in 30 years, I have worked with so many wonderful people."

Marianne Gravely

She says, “As technology and food safety have changed over the years, I have watched and been a part of FSIS embracing those changes to meet its main objective — educating the public about food safety. When the Hotline started, it was the most up-to-date method of reaching consumers. This was pre-Internet, and my three other colleagues and I had 3-ring binders full of information that we collected from a variety of sources. We relied on each other, our expertise in our particular fields of study and our partners — other FSIS employees, extension offices and the media. We used to mail articles to news outlets to get food safety messages out as part of our public awareness campaigns. Today is no different. We still educate the public because an informed public is savvy and food safe consumers. The only difference is the technology.”

The Hotline, now staffed with five specialists, has collectively responded to more than 3.5 million customers — consumers, academia, the industry, media, and even FSIS employees over the years. These inquiries have come through: phone calls and internet communications, which consist of Ask Karen, a 24/7, virtual food safety representative with answers to 1,500 food safety questions; live chats; m.AskKaren.gov, a mobile App for smartphones; and the FoodKeeper App, the latest technological venture that offers information on more than 650 food and beverage items.The FoodKeeper App also has an “Add Item” feature that allows consumers to suggest items that may not be in the app. These new technologies give consumers access to the most up-to-date information the way they want to receive it, when they want to receive it. Additionally, in April 2017, the Hotline extended its hours from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish. The Hotline function is key to achieving consumer education and preventing foodborne illness.

Gravely says, “The purpose of extending the operating hours of the Hotline was an effort to be available for consumers living on the West Coast who have a three-hour time zone different from us here in Washington, D.C. Our goal has been surpassed. The Hotline’s query rate has increased not only from the western region of the United States but from all over the country.” Clearly, members of the Hotline impact public health with every interaction.

Teamwork Equals Success

In December, Gravely will retire from FSIS and plans to do all the things (quilt, travel, spend more time with family, complete housing projects) we all aspire to do when our last workday comes. Until then, she will continue to do what she has done for
the Agency, and that is “answer a lot of food safety questions and help a lot of people.” She considers the work and the job she does very gratifying. As Gravely has said, “It is rewarding to know that I am helping people and keeping them from getting food poisoning. Also, working with my colleagues to solve problems is always fun.”

Gravely also values and credits those she works with for her long career. “My colleagues are the secret to the success of the Hotline. The dedicated team helps people, and we work well together. I am fortunate that in 30 years, I have worked with so many wonderful people,” she said.

Road to FSIS

Before joining FSIS, Gravely was a Home Economist for Yokosuka Naval Base Family Service Center in Japan, where she helped American families adjust to life in Japan. She also worked with Japanese citizens who married American soldiers and were moving to the United States.

Gravely graduated from Hood College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Home Economics and earned a master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Foods from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech. She lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, with her husband Alan, who retired in October from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. They have three adult children.

 

Last Modified Jun 21, 2019