FDA Consumer

A day in the life of FDA’s food safety team – Food and Drug Administration

A day in the life of FDA’s food safety team – Food and Drug Administration – Safety First: Protecting America’s Food Supply, part 2

Vern Modeland

A Day In The Life Of FDA’s Food Safety Team

Protecting the safety of America’s food supply involves legwork and lab work as well as paperwork.

FDA inspectors usually are the first contact between the agency and those people who prepare products destined for human consumption, to see that the nation’s food and drug laws are understood and are being followed.

In laboratories and and science centers across the country, FDA analysts and technicians confirm the safety of food, food ingredients, and additives through thousands of examinations and tests performed each day.

Still others in the agency are involved in the administrative and regulatory aspects of this complicated consumer protection process with its global span of activities and impact.

Individual contributions are as varied as the personalities of the people who make them . The photos on these pages focus on a few of FDA’s investigators, laboratory technicians, and regulatory coordinators at their daily jobs–helping to make our food the safest in the world.

Does the Label Say Enough?

FDA regulation extends to the drugs fed to animals whose meat, eggs or milk are destined for the dinner table. Some drugs used to medicate animals or enhance their growth could harm humans if residues remain in food, so directions for using the drugs often list “withdrawal times” to allow the drug to be eliminated from the animals’s body. FDA investigator Fran Pell is shown at a Baltimore-area feed mill, checking feed labels for conformity with drug regulations.

Good Manufacturing


FDA investigator Pell confers with a feed plant manager about how the mill measures, weighs, labels, and stores the 100-pound sacks of livestock feeds being filled by a worker. More than 200 tons of feed will be shipped from this plant before the day ends.

Clean Inside and Out

Milk pasteurizing and blending tanks in ice cream plants are examined to see if there are places or conditions in which bacteria can grow and spread. This plant supplies ice cream products to the 145 stores of an East Coast supermarket chain. The plant’s laboratory supervisor accompanies FDA’s Rose Bucey on an inspection. Bucey began working at FDA 20 years ago as a secretary and became an investigator 10 years ago after additional schooling.

Check the Color of Caviar

FDA investigator Ernie Roane checks labels on this imported caviar a second time. Distribution of the shipment was held up by FDA until the label on each jar was modified to correctly list a regulated food coloring uncovered in samples tested in an FDA laboratory.

Making Rounds on the Docks

Baltimore’s Dundalk Marine Terminal is another regular stop for Roane. Cavernous warehouses and acres of docks fill and empty daily as ships arrive with stacks of semi-trailer-sized containers. Millions of tons of bulk olive oil, spices, meats, and fish pass through America’s ports of entry daily. Occasionally, so do exotic ethnic food imports such as dried fungus or smoked rat meat. FDA made more than 60,000 wharf examinations this past year, up 27 percent from the year before.

Concentrating on


By “macroscopic inspection under bright light against a white bacground,” FDA’s Beverly Kent looks at anise seeds for contaminants. Anything suspicious is sorted out for closer review under a wide-field microscope. This sample, from a bulk import, included a significant number of rodent droppings.

Laboratories Close in on Samples

In FDA’s Baltimore science branch, mirobiologist Connie Bulawka prepares a test for possible presence of Listeria bacteria. Cultures grown from samples of imported frozen shrimp will be subjected to computerized analysis.

Computer an Important Resource

The cultures isolated from imported frozen shrimp and inoculated into plastic cards by Bulawka are placed in a modern reader/incubator for computerized analysis by Tom Latt, another microbiologist in FDA’s Baltimore district laboratory.

Photography Also Part of the Job

What is it? What’s in it? Both questions sometimes have to be answered by FDA laboratories. Lab analyst Bernice Bearin begins with a photo record of an imported packaged food product before opening it. The label identified this item as dried black fungus, a food favored by some Asian-Americans. What the label didn’t mention were the mites, insects and rodent contamination Bearin found in the product.

Laboratory Analysis Spills


The label said the jar contains “hot bean paste.” Beverly Kent’s testing also uncovered a number of rodent hairs, cat and dog hair, and other unidentified streated hairs that indicate the preparation of this imported ethnic food is not up to the collective standards of American consumers.

Computer Bytes a Bit of Sample

FDA chemist Bill Bargo loads into a computer a program that will speed evaluation of an imported food sample. The computer will calculate and report the amount of sulfite preservatives–to which some people are allergic–in frozen shrimp.

Searching for Sulfamethazine

Sulfamethazine is a drug mixed into feeds to control respiratory infections and other disease in pigs and other animals. Possible long-term effects of residues on humans who consume pork are being studied. If it is present in these feed samples, sulfamethazine will show up as a uniquely placed and colored stain at the end of a testing process known as thin-layer chromatography, being prepared here by chemist Frank Schenk.

Ready at the Recall

When recall of a food product becomes necessary, FDA’s Division of Emergency and Epidemiological Operations is involved. At FDA headquarters in Rockville, Md., Kaye MacPherson, recall technician, and Ed Warren, emergency coordinator, work with FDA district offices, oversee data control and monitoring, and coordinate communication during recalls.

COPYRIGHT 1988 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group