Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Dr. Dawn D. Walters, a public health veterinarian and current Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer in Arizona. Dr. Walters has committed the past six years to food safety by working for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). With her big smile and enthusiastic personality (yes, I’ve been lucky enough to meet her), it is no surprise that Dr. Walters also serves as an outreach liaison for FSIS. Dr. Walters has also served as an interim Frontline Supervisor and the District Veterinary Medical Specialist. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal and Poultry Science and a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Tuskegee University.
How/when did you first become interested in studying animals?
I became interested when I was four years old after watching my poodle give birth to 6 puppies in our garage!
What does a typical day look like for you?
As an Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer (EIAO), a typical day may begin in my office conducting recall effectiveness checks and catching up on enforcement cases. These cases can involve establishments that have been suspended or provided a notice of intended enforcement if they are unable to bring themselves back into compliance with regulations. Alternatively, my day may start at an establishment to perform a food safety assessment, which determines whether the establishment’s food safety system is safe, scientifically sound and supported through documentation.
How do you impact food safety?
I ensure that every establishment understands that FSIS and the establishments are working together to keep the public safe from food pathogens. My role as an EIAO is to make certain the establishments continue to do their part to maintain a safe product, free of pathogens and wholesome, to enter commerce. This is my direct link to keeping Americans’ meat, poultry, and processed eggs products safe for consumption!
You have held more than one position at FSIS; what was your favorite part of each role?
My favorite part of being a supervisory Public Health Veterinarian was ensuring the humane treatment of animals. I also enjoyed developing great working relationships with the establishments and my inspectors.
My favorite part of working as a Frontline Supervisor was traveling all over beautiful Petaluma wine country and meeting a vast array of FSIS employees. Additionally, I enjoyed utilizing the GAD (Gather, Assess, and Determine) process when resolving issues within my circuit while both learning from and guiding my inspectors.
My favorite part of being an EIAO is the voluminous wealth of knowledge I have obtained in all food processing categories and the flexibility of my supervisor and the position. This flexibility allows me to be available for other duties and roles needed by my district and the Agency, as shown by my interim work as a Frontline Supervisor and the District Veterinary Medical Specialist.
What do you wish you knew before getting started at the USDA FSIS?
I wish I knew how important and needed veterinarians are to the Agency. There are so many roles that can be filled by veterinarians in FSIS and there is a lot of opportunity to find the position right for you.
Who are your role models?
Michelle Obama and my mother, Bonita G. Chaney
What is some advice you have for other women interested in a career in food safety?
Try not to limit yourself to any one area, and ask for what you want. If you have a desire to do something new, and you are willing to be flexible, ask for it to happen! The sky is the limit in the USDA and food safety, so keep reaching!