Meet Dr. Gossett
Welcome to My Blog.
Thanks for visiting my site and reading my story.
My name is James Paul Gossett.
I'm a veterinarian whose interest in food safety dates back to 1972.
At that time, I was a senior in high school who was working part time in a restaurant as a short order cook.
Health inspectors visited the restaurant after a barrel of potato pancake batter had been spilled all over the floor.
We found out afterwards that the potato pancake batter had been scooped up with a dust pan and served unknowingly to guests in the restaurant.
After I finished high school I enlisted in the U.S. Army.
I signed a three year commitment and served as a Food Inspection Specialist detached from Fort Stewart, Georgia with duty at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
After I completed my tour of duty, I began my studies at the University of Florida, where I did my undergraduate work and graduated with a doctorate degree in Veterinary Medicine in 1986.
From there, I went on to pursue a career in Regulatory Veterinary Medicine as a Public Health Veterinarian employed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service.
I was employed by the Food Safety Inspection Service for 29 years, and completed my career with a total of 32 years of federal service.
During my career, I served as a Supervisory Public Health Veterinarian and as the Inspector-In-Charge in many of the major meat and poultry establishments located throughout the states of Georgia and Florida.
This was interesting and important work.
Public Health Veterinarians are responsible for administering a multifaceted program of food safety inspection in many different kinds of food production establishments.
This includes antemortem and postmortem slaughter inspection, further processing, and export inspection of foods of animal origin.
These foods of animal origin include beef, pork, lamb, goat, turkey, chicken, emu, rabbit, and catfish that are produced or stored in official establishments, custom exempt establishments, and export cold storage facilities.
This is important work too, because there are certain diseases that are present in food animals that can be transmitted to human beings.
These zoonotic diseases represent a threat to human health because they can cause foodborne illnesses that may be severe and life threatening.
This is why Public Health Veterinarians play an important role in protecting the nation's public health, we protect human health.
The threat to human health is mainly microbiological, but also includes chemical and physical agents that may be present in food.
The importance of the growing microbiological threat to human health is due to an increase in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and certain virulence factors that increase pathogenicity.
Bacteria such as multidrug-resistant Salmonella, Shiga toxin producing E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes are known pathogens that cause life threatening foodborne illness in human beings.
As it happened, an outbreak of foodborne illness occurred in 1993 when highly pathogenic Shiga toxin producing E. coli O157:H7 sickened 732 people.
A total of 171 people required hospitalization, and the outbreak resulted in the horrible deaths of four young children who died of sepsis and hemolytic uremic syndrome.
This outbreak of foodborne disease occurred because contaminated meat had been undercooked at a fast food restaurant.
Public outrage over this event led to hearings on Capital Hill, where grieving parents recounted in graphic detail how their young children had suffered and died such horrible deaths.
These events spurred a nationwide movement that focused on improving the safety of the nation's food supply, and this movement resulted in the adoption of major new national food safety reform legislation.
You can read about this event here.
The Food Safety Inspection Service responded with national reviews of cattle slaughter establishments because fecal contamination of ground beef had been implicated in this outbreak.
Under performing establishments were then identified and targeted for increased scrutiny of production practices.
Inspection personnel such as myself were placed under considerable pressure to take action in official establishments whenever necessary to improve compliance with regulatory requirements in order to prevent another outbreak of foodborne disease.
Assigned personnel such as myself were required to draw up action plans to monitor the production practices of underperforming establishments and to make progress reports to agency management.
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were already backing an initiative to utilize information technology to reinvent government to work more efficiently to better serve the American people at this time.
As part of the "Reinvention of Government" initiative, employees of the Food Safety Inspection Service received surveys in the mail soliciting comments and suggestions on how the efficiency of government operations could be improved.
Over 100 comments from FSIS employees were collected and forwarded to the heads of the Agency.
The comments and suggestions that FSIS received were considered by the Agency’s Policy and Program Development personnel before being submitted to lawmakers.
Other concerned citizens were also given their opportunity to comment on needed food safety reforms. Citizens organized into political action committees such as Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) and The National HACCP Alliance.
After a Rule Making Process had gathered input from all interested stakeholders during the public comment period, lawmakers codified regulations into the Pathogen Reduction / HACCP Final Rule that was voted on and passed by an act of Congress on July 25, 1996.
The Final Rule was then signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
This is how Pathogen Reduction became the law of the land, it became the law of the land by the mandate of the American people.
The so-called Pathogen Reduction / HACCP "Mega Reg" was published in the Federal Register 9 CFR Part 304, et al. Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems on July 25, 1996.
You can read this comprehensive revision of the nation's food safety inspection regulations here.
This Pathogen Reduction legislation established Pathogen Reduction performance standards that official establishments were required to meet.
Provisions were made in the Pathogen Reduction / HACCP Final Rule for the microbiological sampling of finished products to verify that pathogen reduction standards were being met, as the agency moved forward with a more science based inspection methodology.
This reform legislation also required that establishments develop and implement functional HACCP quality control programs to address known food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur in certain types and classes of food products.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point process control programs had already proven effective in controlling food safety hazards in the food production environment in many other countries that had already mandated the implementation of these programs.
Our nation's adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point quality control program requirements therefore helped to support our nation's export markets and improved our nation's balance of trade.
This is because HACCP programs had already been proven effective in addressing food safety hazards in other countries, and because these programs were required to achieve parity with the food production practices of many of our export trading partners.
I was a strong supporter of the implementation efforts for the Pathogen Reduction / Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point reforms when they were required by law to begin.
I supported the implementation of these new food safety initiatives because it was the right thing to do, and because it was my professional responsibility to do so.
I understood early on that these reforms were fundamentally altruistic, that Pathogen Reduction was the people's mandate, and that it was for the greater good.
However, there were many in the regulated industry and in the Food Safety Inspection Service who took a dim view of these modernization efforts, and there were many who were openly hostile toward the implementation of these reforms.
Many people balked at the increased complexity, and some people actually fought the implementation of this new food safety legislation.
There were even some who angrily denounced this new reform legislation, and promised that the Pathogen Reduction legislation was never going to work.
Many people in the field environment then fought the implementation of this Pathogen Reduction legislation because they perceived it to be a threat to their own job security.
Implementation of these food safety reforms in the field environment was therefore quite a difficult task to achieve, as this was definitely not a popularity contest.
However, microbiological sampling of finished products provided the hard empirical evidence that agency officials needed to pursue stronger regulatory enforcement actions whenever it was necessary.
A shakeup of the regulated industry ensued.
Some people lost their jobs, and many disaffected people cried fowl.
Many people were angry, and many people wanted to know who was to blame for all this turmoil in the workplace.
Investigations were initiated, and the finger pointing began.
I was targeted for investigation during this time by powerful political opponents of these food safety reform initiatives, as many people wrongly blamed me for the increased regulatory pressure that threatened their own job security.
Pathogen Reduction had not even been my idea.
However, I had already been labeled as a so called "troublemaker" in the field environment because of some conflict that occurred previously with some of the locals, and because of my strong support of agency objectives.
Those who set themselves against Pathogen Reduction seized upon this and wrongly blamed me for the passage of this new food safety reform legislation.
These people made me the lightning rod in this conflict while they worked to undermine the Pathogen Reduction implementation efforts.
Meanwhile, certain constituents voted with their pocketbooks to push back against the enforcement of Pathogen Reduction.
These people insinuated themselves into my personal life and began to posture around me as if I was some kind of dangerous criminal.
It was never true.
My asinine detractors, however, were doing everything they could think of to discredit me in an effort to undermine the implementation of the new Pathogen Reduction legislation, and to cover up their own criminal wrongdoing.
Investigators then loaded up the bus with a multitude of antagonistic relationships as they told everyone else that I was just a big pushover.
They promised everyone an eventual prosecution for their case work, but they were barking up the wrong tree the whole time.
Meanwhile, the entire agency of the Food Safety Inspection Service was focused in on the prevention of fecal contamination of product and microbiological sampling of product to detect pathogens in order to prevent another outbreak.
Having no choice in the matter, I elected to persevere as I continued to support the public mandate and agency objectives, even as the agency moved to clean up underperforming establishments.
These were some very difficult years for many people, but I continued to support agency objectives because I had been placed in a responsible position, and because I had professional responsibilities.
It is true that many people in the regulated industry had their livelihoods threatened when microbiological testing demonstrated that contaminated products were being produced.
Regulatory control actions were taken by team members to prevent contaminated product from reaching the consumer, and establishments were given the opportunity to improve their production practices.
Some underperforming establishments were actually closed when the owners and operators found that they could not meet their responsibility to produce a wholesome product in a sanitary environment.
Sometimes, this was the price of Pathogen Reduction.
However, the successful implementation of the Pathogen Reduction / HACCP "Mega Reg" did result in significant progress toward improving the safety of our nation's food supply.
Significant and enduring progress in food safety production practices were made on a national basis, and today our nation enjoys a much, much safer food supply and a robust agricultural export market.
And, although more work remains to be done, these reforms were a major step toward addressing the microbiological threat to human health.
Many good people participated in these food safety reform efforts, and I’m proud to say that I did my part to stay the course in support of these food safety reforms in the field environment.
James Paul Gossett, DVM, SPHV (Retired)
James P. Gossett, DVM