That particular assignment had several plants that had problems. ... The
conditions that they were in when I was assigned ... were not something that
happened overnight. They had existed. It was a way of life in those plants. And
there was no documentation ... on file from this previous inspector.
What sorts of things did you see when you came into this plant that were
I saw the insects. ... Old tape on product contact zones that were soiled,
"Soiled" -- meaning what?
Dirty. "Soiled" meaning dirty.
Like old meat, like blood on the tape, things like that?
... You know, like tape does around the edges where there's sticky stuff? You
could see where there was soil, whatever. It could have been many things -- the
previous day's product residue on there, building up and getting into a black
On the white cutting boards, there would be these grooves in there. And in
those grooves, there would be black, where they used a knife and over a period
of time, they get gouges and grooves in the white cutting boards. And then if
they're not maintained properly and cleaned properly, they get all this black
buildup in the cracks and crevices.
And I saw walls that were dirty, ceiling fixtures, rust, flaking paint units
that hadn't been cleaned in obviously a long period of time, because there was
buildup on the back, dust.
So you come into this as the new inspector. You object to them. They've been
used to getting away with some of this stuff, and you won't let them.
... What was their reaction to you being tough on them?
[That] I didn't know what I was doing. They would say that I really didn't find
the things that I found. It was almost as if they would do everything and
anything they could to discredit me and discredit what I was doing in their
They would actually take the appropriate action [if I documented them] and
clean it up at that time. However, they would appeal either the process
deficiency record or the noncompliance record, whichever it was at the time.
They'd appeal it and say that it wasn't there -- that those deficiencies were
So they didn't want a paper record of these problems.
Right. They did not want me to document their problems.
Now, if you went in there and you just told them their problems or the
deficiencies and you didn't document them, obviously they'd be a lot more
happier with you. And that's what happened with a lot of inspectors. ...
Not all of them, but some of them experienced the tension, the harassment, the
intimidation from these plant people -- owners, even managers, even employees
at times. ... It was easier just to tell them and not document it, or not even
tell them. I had a plant owner tell me that the inspector would come to the
plant and say, "Page me if anybody comes or calls for me," and leave, never
even enter the processing areas. ...
Actually, I was following this inspector ... because he was ahead of me in the
rotation. [The union] actually moved him out from in front of me. ... He was a
union official. So he didn't want me going behind in his plants and finding the
conditions I found, because that was exposing him. ...
Did the USDA ever talk to him or punish him for not keeping a very strict
eye on these plants?
Not that I'm aware of. ... He testified at the [Merit Systems Protection Board
(MSPB)] hearing. And he said in front of everybody that it was easier to talk
to the plants than to document, which is totally against what we're trained to
do. It was very obvious to the inspection personnel in the room that that's why
it was so difficult for me and for any other inspector that's out there that
goes into a plant and expects to enforce the rules and the regulations.
I guess you can understand why a plant manager would harass you -- because
they have something to lose. They need to keep the line moving, they have tight
margins, and all of that. But why would your bosses? Why would the people at
[the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)], who should have the same
mission as you do of protecting the consumer, come down on you for doing your
If you document in these plants, obviously it shows that there's deficiencies
going on out in the plants. And I think they want to keep that number down. ...
The USDA wants to keep the number of problems down?
If there's no documentation that there's any problems out there in the plants,
then everything must be working pretty good. And actually, that's not reality.
So if you file complaints, you make it look like the system is not
If you document deficiencies in a plant, yes. It shows that there's
deficiencies out there going on in these plants. ...
[Typically, what would happen when you found something wrong at a plant?
What's the process? And what was one of the biggest problems you faced?]
I did the documentation. I would talk with the plant management. I would let
them know that they needed to implement corrective and preventive measures. ...
[To address] condensation dripping from a refrigeration unit, their first
corrective action would be, "Well, we wiped it down." And their preventive
measure is, "We'll monitor it once every couple of hours and make sure that
it's not there."
OK, we accept that corrective and preventive measure. So let's say a week
later, two weeks later, you go in there and you find the dripping condensation
from the same area. And you notify them again. You document the problem. And
their corrective action is, "We wiped it down immediately." Their preventive
measures would be, "We'll monitor it again every two hours."
Well, that's not acceptable, because the first preventive measure didn't work,
because it's happening again. So you require them to give you another
And that's where I've found that one of the biggest problems was -- that the
inspectors were accepting the same corrective and preventive measures. Not so much
corrective. ... But the preventive measure is the key, so that the problem is
not reoccurring. And the plant would put a preventive measure down on paper,
and the inspector would sign it off. But if it happened again, they would put
the preventive measure. It was always--
Doing the same thing again?
... Same thing over and over. They were really not doing anything to prevent.
And the inspectors were accepting these same preventive measures.
I had a supervisor ... that said if we keep accepting the same preventive
measures, we're part of the problem. And that was so true. I would document as
well on memos telling them, "You need more meaningful corrective and
preventive measures. And you need to implement those, so that this isn't
reoccurring or it's not happening."
And the plants did not want to do that. They were very upset. They'd ask me,
"Well, what do you want me to put?" I'd say, "I can't tell you what to put
down. If I make the suggestion and it doesn't work, then I'm the one that's
I would talk to the managers, the owners. I might suggest, "Well, a plant down
the street, you may want to call them. They may have some suggestions, because
they had similar problems and they've been able to find solutions." But those
were the only [pieces of] advice that I would give them. ...
I'm the oddball inspector that's not telling them what to do. The whole purpose
of HACCP and SSOP is that they take the responsibility. They find their own
When things got bad for you with these plants and with FSIS, they
transferred you. Is that a normal procedure? Is that a normal thing that they
Actually, what they did was they said they were going to put me in eggs
training. They wanted to train me in egg products. So they put me in a plant to
have me trained.
What's wrong with that?
There was nothing wrong with that. ... But the agreement with the union and the
agency was that the inspectors would be trained for a certain amount of time.
That was two to four weeks, depending on your background, what type of
experience you had -- four weeks if you had no processing experience, and two
weeks if you had previous processing experience.
Well, they put me in eggs products training for eight weeks. ... I mean, that
wasn't supposed to happen.
That was unusual?
And they were asking you to move also, right? ... They wanted to transfer
you to the night shift in--
Cherokee, [in Iowa].
... Was that an unusual course of action?
Why? Was it a punitive thing to do? Did you see it as a punishment?
Yes. ... I did see it as a punishment.
I had no previous disciplinary action taken against me. I hadn't done anything
wrong. All the allegations that were lodged against me were not true. And the
sad thing is that if the agency would have followed the directives and the
notices that they're to follow concerning industry accusations against
inspection personnel -- the appeal process -- [and] if they would have acted
upon [my] notifying them of the harassment and intimidation I was experiencing in
the plant ... But they weren't doing anything. They were just letting the work
environment become more and more hostile for me. ...
What do you think the end result of your case has been on other inspectors
in some of the plants maybe that you were working in? How do you think they've
been affected by what happened to you?
I just was talking to an inspector last week that was in one of the plants that
I had been in. And they found rodent droppings in, I believe, the processing
areas or processing-related areas -- rodent droppings in the plant.
That inspector was very afraid to take any action or document it on an NR -- a
noncompliance record. They didn't. That inspector documented it on a separate
document -- which is a speed memo -- and just notified the plant that he has
rodent droppings. That's sad, because that inspector was afraid to take any
action in that plant.
Have you talked to that inspector? Do you know that inspector?
... It was a fellow inspector that told me. They had talked to her. They were
with that inspector, and during the course of the conversation, the inspector
told this story. ...
Let's talk specifically. That's Global Food, right?
This is an interesting case. What were the problems you saw at Global Food
as an inspector? What problems did you see there?
I saw the dead roaches and insects. I saw direct product contamination. I saw
moldy product. I saw just filth in their coolers. I saw the refrigeration units
leaking, the condensation. The freezer had actually about a three-foot mound of
ice buildup from the floor up. ...
And what's the problem with that?
It shows that there's a leaky unit. The problem is ... that the unit's not
working properly to begin with. The water dripping from there could have
That is one of the sources of listeria?
Yes, one of the sources of listeria is water. And they find it a lot in refrigeration units, drains. ...
So the thing of it is, if you have that condition in the freezer or a cooler,
you're creating an unsanitary atmosphere. Global Food had product in their
freezer that would be taken out to be further processed. So this freezer
condition -- drippy units, building up of ice, the dirty floors, boxes that
were damaged, product damage, product exposed -- everything combined was just a
very unsanitary condition.
What happened when you reported these problems at Global Food? Were they
taken care of?
Yes, initially they were. And after that, I have heard that the problems
continued. ... Then I was accused of all these false allegations.
So you had gone to them reporting these obvious problems?
And they turned around and attacked you?
Yes. ... The problem there is that they would cook a product ... and they would
have records indicating the cooking and cooling of that product -- what time it
hit the lethality temperature, and then when it cooled down to, let's say, 130
degrees. Once it hit 130 degrees, they were to have that product cool to 80
degrees within an hour and a half, and then after 80 degrees to 40 degrees
within five hours.
So that was the regulation that they were to meet at that time. Well, they
would have cooking and cooling records. And then when I'd ask them: "Well, OK,
show me your pre-operational and your operational checks for the day as well,"
they wouldn't have any. So that was an SSOP failure. If they're regulating
themselves and inspecting themselves, they have to demonstrate it through their
documentation -- which is a critical point in their process as well.
So if they're not inspecting and doing what they're supposed to be doing and
documenting it, then they're not regulating themselves. They're not following
the regulations that the USDA [set]. ...
What did they say about you?
My circuit supervisor had said that I was not allowing the plants to get used
to the new way of inspection, [that] I wasn't giving them time to adjust. ...
Well, they've been doing this program for two years. So it wasn't anything new.
... It wasn't something that they needed time to adjust to. In implementing new
programs, ... you want to have an adjustment period there. However, you need to
realize that you still don't not document, you still don't not take care of
problems. ... You still have to do your job in the meantime, you know? ...
In Global Foods, I saw a memo where they called you a "loose cannon," and
the agency has said in different ways that you were difficult. They tried to
blame you for the problems. Is that fair?
No. See, they wanted to take the focus off of the real problems, and those were
the unsanitary conditions of those establishments, and then put the problem on
my conduct. They were saying, "Her conduct, she can't get along with anybody,
she's abusive, abrasive." [They said I was] calling them "f-ing liars," I'm
"out of control," compliance has to ask me to leave the plant because I'm so,
you know, all these things.
The actual owners were out there creating a hostile work environment for me,
but however, they were turning it around and saying it was me that was creating
that hostile work environment, which was just not true.
You did not call them "f-ing liars"?
You did not harass them?
No, absolutely not. My documenting the failures in the plant, that's what they
were objecting to. They were objecting to that in order to get me out of the
assignment, out of the circuit, really. I mean, why didn't they reassign me to
San Fernando circuit? Santa Ana circuit? Why ship me clear to Cherokee, Iowa?
You know what I'm saying?
And then they said that I needed more supervision. When you're put on a night
assignment, that's the [least] supervision anybody could get. ... I mean, why
did I receive outstanding and superior ratings and cash awards, and all of a
sudden, I just can't get along with anybody?
Why do you think that they changed overnight?
I believe because they don't really want us to do our job. They go out there,
they say all the right things. The agency tells us to do all the right things,
document, [tells us], "This is the action you're supposed to take when this
occurs." But when you actually get out there and do it, they don't really want
you to do that, either. And that's why they allowed the plants to create a
hostile work environment. It helps them back off the inspector, as well. ...
So, in theory, you think HACCP is a good idea? ...
... These plants are not going to regulate themselves. And that's basically
what's it's shown. ... Going out there and observing these plants and
monitoring that they are effectively implementing their HACCP programs is not
happening in many of the plants.
And your experience proves that.
Oh, yes. ...
The National Meat Association is who the owners of the company will call if
they don't like something you've done?
And how does the National Meat Association apply pressure that comes back
and affects what you do? ... Did you feel like you were getting it from all
Oh yes. ... The president of the National Meat Association wrote a letter
[about me], and it was distributed to the plants in the Riverside circuit. ...
I'm not sure if she put my name in there. But everybody in the whole circuit
knew some of the problems that had happened. And she described them, and the
plant owner told me that one of the gentlemen that works for the National Meat
Association would call them on a weekly basis asking about me, "What is she
doing in your plant? Is she creating a problem?" ...
You had a reputation.
Yes, I had a reputation, and I believe the reputation was that I actually did
what the agency wanted me [to do], trained us to do. And because I had done that in
three plants, ... that spread around like wildfire. ...
If you had been a strict inspector, how come that wasn't a problem earlier?
Why did it just become a problem at this point?
... Because the plants are now responsible for their plants. ... And I believe
when the responsibility shift, that they didn't want anybody to know they were
not taking care of their responsibility. ...
Do you feel like you should apologize for being a strict inspector?
No, I don't apologize for going in there and doing my job and documenting like
they asked me to. ... They said I was overzealous. They were comparing me to
the previous inspector that was in there. ...
We found direct product contact zones that were contaminated with previous
days' product residue. ... And as I had documented in the past, they were
marking off equipment [as] acceptable without even inspecting it. ... It
couldn't have happened at a better time, with him standing there. What I had
been documenting and telling him what was going on, happened right before his
eyes. He could not deny it. ... However, that didn't help, because he just
acted as if it was nothing. ... I realized that it didn't matter what I did or
how I did it; the truth was not going to be told. ...
I know you've settled with the agency on one case. Can you talk about that
Are you content with the settlement?
Do you feel like you won?
Yes, I do.
And were exonerated?
I just want you to touch again, if you could, on that whole aspect of
feeling like you're getting it from both sides -- both from the owners of the
plant, and the powers that be, and how that affected you.
The effect it had me, really, was it was scary. Like I said, driving up to a
plant, you know you're going in there, and you've got to do the job. And
knowing that if you went in there and there was some action you needed to take
as far as maybe rejecting ... because of sanitation conditions, or there's
cross-contamination, I knew that the plant was going to do and say whatever
they could to back me off. I knew that if they called the district ... or my supervisor, that I was not going to get any support. ...
It felt like you were getting it from both sides, both from the company and
from your own bosses. No one was on your side.
Which is worse? The companies' bosses are after you or that your own
supervisors are not supporting you?
My own supervisors not supporting me. ... It was just a miserable place to be.
Do you think it affected the quality of your work?
Oh, yes. The reason why it affected the quality of my work is that it was like
I was afraid to make a mistake. You know, nobody's perfect. And [what] the
agency would tell us before is, "You know what? It's OK to make mistakes. ...
You regroup, you go forward." Well, in that environment, I was so afraid to
make any mistake that I think I just couldn't even really do my job. ...
It's one thing to see animals killed, animals torn apart, all of that, which
would happen. But were the conditions somehow particularly bad or unsanitary or
alarming to you, somebody who had seen this growing up. Is that what was
shocking to you? Or was it just the scale of it, and the numbers? ...
I could tell you what I found out to be horrifying. ... In slaughter plants,
when you slaughter an animal, there's a tagging system. ... One of the tag's
number goes with the viscera, one goes with the feet, and one goes with the
carcass. ... Head, feet, viscera, carcass, four. To just get production going,
numbers up, they would actually put the head on the rack. ... Let's say we
found something in the head -- a lymph node [irregularity]. Those conditions
could mean tuberculosis.
Then you would go around and make sure that you got the feet of that animal,
the carcass, the viscera, all the parts to the animal by that tagging system.
Well, by the time you got through inspecting the head, everything else was
gone. They were going so fast that there was no way that they could keep the
tagging correctly, OK?
So you would find tuberculosis in the head of the carcass, and try to track
down the rest of the parts of the animal, and you couldn't?
Right. ... I was the one that realized that they were ... going so fast on the
other end that that number was [with] a completely different viscera. It was a
completely different carcass. If you found something in the head and you went
back to find the rest of the parts, you may have parts, but they weren't the
right ones. ...
When I first got there, they [the slaughterhouse] were slaughtering close to
700 ... a day. So you can figure 700 a day was pretty good for that
establishment. When we found out that they were not identifying all the parts
to the animal, then it slowed their production down to about 300 a day. ...
That's when I first moved. ...
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