Faces of Food Safety: Meet Summer Addo of FSIS

Summer Addo, Ph.D., is an enforcement, investigations and analysis officer (EIAO), and has been with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Office of Field Operations for more than 11 years. In her current role, she conducts public health risk evaluations for meat and poultry establishments and makes recommendations regarding enforcement actions. Addo performs on-site, routine and for-cause food safety assessments to verify the design and proper functioning of a plant’s food safety and process control systems. Other responsibilities include collecting necessary information pertaining to product recall actions and conducting outreach activities to help small and very small establishments reduce risks.

Her UGA education
Addo pursued back-to-back degrees at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, GA. Initially a pre-medical student, she completed her bachelor’s of science degree in microbiology in 2001.

Addo consults with CSI Antoine Broughton during a food safety assessment.

During the summer between her undergraduate and graduate programs, she participated in a minority undergraduate summer program and worked in a research laboratory at the UGA School of Pharmacy studying the placental transfer of antiviral drugs in pregnancy. She then continued her studies at UGA, obtaining her doctorate in 2006 in pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences.

She believes FSIS empowers her to be successful in protecting public health by providing a wealth of resources such as directives, guidelines and policy experts to increase her knowledge regarding the hazards and control measures associated with meat, poultry and egg products. In 2017, she took advantage of the opportunities provided through FSIS’ Continuing Education Program and earned a Certificate of Proficiency in food science from Washington State University. The food science courses augmented her undergraduate studies in microbiology and provided additional insight into the microbial pathogens specific to food, which in turn advanced her understanding of the biological hazards associated with meat and poultry products.

FSIS career path
Originally, Addo planned to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research, but after obtaining her doctorate, she wasn’t able to relocate to areas of the country with large pharmaceutical companies. Instead, she took a five-year break dedicated to raising her two toddlers. Said Addo, “Those years spent were invaluable, but I realized that I needed to start my career. I was not keen on a career in academia, so I began searching for local research positions. As I was searching online, I saw many advanced positions that piqued my interest in FSIS.” In 2011, she applied for a position as an FSIS food inspector (FI) in hopes of eventually transitioning to a position in which she could utilize her scientific background and analytical skills.

She began her FSIS career as an FI in a poultry slaughter establishment in 2011. Over time, she continued to advance as opportunities arose that fit the needs of her family. “I was blessed to earn promotions to assignments with suitable schedules without having to relocate. This included consumer safety inspector positions starting in 2016 and eventually the EIAO position in 2021.”

FSIS core values
Of the four FSIS Core Values — Accountable, Collaborative, Empowered and Solutions-Oriented — Addo believes collaborative best defines her. She said, “I strive to collaborate effectively within FSIS and with industry partners. We work together to ensure that the food safety programs are designed and implemented properly to prevent adulterated product from entering commerce. “I especially like collaborating with small and very small establishments that may not have the money, resources or scientific expertise of larger establishments to provide resources and input to help them improve their process.”

New to the team, she finds her co-workers to be very welcoming and supportive, freely sharing their knowledge and work methods and providing many resources and tools to help her succeed in her position. Said Addo, “It truly attests to everyone’s shared goal of promoting food safety by ensuring that the entire team is well-equipped with the proper tools to be successful. We work together as a team to perform routine Listeria sample collections at establishments and collaborate on assignments to ensure that we can collectively provide the greatest impact on food safety.”

Addo’s supervisor, Debra Halteman, supervisory EIAO stated, “Dr. Addo exemplifies FSIS core values through her collaborative work efforts by being a conscientious team player. Dr. Addo prioritizes her duties and responsibilities as she works toward solutions by considering all angles of a situation. She has a pleasant, relaxed communication style as she works diligently toward resolving issues. Dr. Addo is dedicated to the accomplishment of the Agency’s public health mission. It is a pleasure working with her.”

FSIS mentoring program 
In 2016, Addo participated in the FSIS Mentoring Program where she was mentored by Jackson District Frontline Supervisor Willis Wright. Wright helped her develop organization, communication, time management and work-life balance skills. He emphasized putting your best effort into everything, every day — advice Addo has followed throughout the years.

Consumer Safety Inspector (CSI) LaBarron Dixon has also served as a mentor to Addo. As a CSI, he taught her to look at the “big picture” regarding food safety systems. “He has always expressed his confidence in my knowledge and abilities and always encourages me to seek new heights in my career,” said Addo.

Outside of work
Outside of work, Addo enjoys spending time in the kitchen with her two children — Elijah, 14, and Anaiya, 13 — where she teaches them about food safety practices regarding proper handwashing, the handling of raw and cooked foods and cooking food to proper temperatures.

After witnessing common health issues in her family, Dr. Addo started running with a local running group several years ago; she is determined to never stop pursuing a healthy lifestyle. She has run several 5K and 10K races, as well as two half-marathons. She also enjoys scrapbooking, painting, watching Marvel movies and traveling with her children.

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