Integrity. It is a word to live by. And Mark Underberg, an import inspector with the Import Inspection Division in the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Office of International Affairs, takes it seriously. “Your decisions have to be fair and consistent,” he says. “And once you have a solid decision, you stand by it.” It is this same integrity that has driven Underberg throughout his life.
Underberg first began his career with FSIS in 1996 as a poultry line inspector in Indiana and then later worked as a processing inspector in Connecticut. In 2003, he returned to his home near Niagara Falls, N.Y., to serve as an import inspector, a job he maintains now. As an import inspector, Underberg is responsible for making sure that products imported from other countries are as safe as those produced domestically.
Inspectors comprise the largest category of employees in FSIS; there are currently about 8,000 individuals nationwide who perform inspection activities, including daily inspection at plants and import establishments, in-depth evaluations, audits and assessments. Inspectors form the heart of the agency—performing tasks that keep the public safe, gathering data to inform our new understanding of the risks in the food safety system and implementing new knowledge and science the agency develops. It is a job that never stops and is always changing.
“The strength of FSIS is that we, as an agency, are always trying to improve,” said Underberg. “Here at FSIS, I have learned that it takes hard work, dedication and knowledge to keep the public safe.”
Underberg’s job is not easy. Just this last year, 290 million pounds of FSIS-regulated product were presented for inspection at his Niagara Falls point of entry. “Import inspectors work hard to be on the same page so that each import house applies the requirements uniformly across the board,” said Underberg. “That way, everyone who ships regulated product in the United States recognizes that they have to meet the same requirements no matter which point of entry they go through.”
“I know that I am making a difference in my job…and it has to be done right. That is important. Those products will be consumed by the public,” said Underberg. “My philosophy on the job is to measure all my decisions against the big picture: those who eat the product that we inspect—our families and neighbors.”
Faces of Food Safety is an initiative by FSIS to introduce Americans to the real people who work every day to keep the food in their own homes and yours safe. Click to read more about Underberg and other Faces of Food Safety on FSIS’s website.