Your Fall Edition of Field Notes Is Here!

Enjoy this quarterly newsletter from the Food Safety & Consumer Protection Division
of the
Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

...and happy Halloween!

October 2021

We are a little late getting this to you, but we think this edition of Field Notes will have something for everyone...

We will take you on a journey through a life transition that leads to a better balance, a journey into Vermont's dairy processing sector, and a journey down our State's country roads as we help ensure the safety of your favorite seasonal pie filling (hint, hint). Also, if you have already caved like I have and turned on your heat for the season, you will want to see how we protect your bottom dollar when you fill your heating fuel tank. If you want to learn how to protect your food and ag sector business, well, keep reading because we have you covered there, too!

Enjoy the trip, and we will see you "down the road"! 

-Kristin Haas, Director, Food Safety & Consumer Protection Division
We think you will love learning a little bit more about one Agency of Agriculture employee's transition from private sector employment to the State of Vermont ranks. Let us know what you think about the longer format of this first article! Do you want to see more like this, or does brevity reign?
How I Found the Best "Real Job" Ever!
by: Craig Koscielski, Meat Programs Supervisor
Throughout my previous career as a chef and restaurant worker, I often pondered what my life would be like if I hung up the ole’ apron and chef coat.  Years of kitchen work had been taxing, and as I juggled my passion for cooking with the challenges of the restaurant lifestyle, I decided to move on to the next phase and pursue what I called at that time a “real job” career path.  I frequently wondered whether working in kitchens and cooking had prepared me well for the next phase of my career; turns out it had…
Toward the end of 2008, while living in Massachusetts, my girlfriend (now wife) announced that she was offered employment in Vermont and planned to seize the opportunity. It turns out that her opportunity was mine as well!

Once in Vermont, I hastily took the first restaurant job I could find: kitchen manager in a family-style chain restaurant, which was a distinctly different track for me.  “At least it got me to Vermont”, I thought.  After temporarily residing in Cornish, New Hampshire, we purchased a home in Springfield, VT in May 2009. 
My new job required my attention for 70+ hours per week, with some weekend work necessary just to keep up. I had Sundays and Mondays off, which meant I got to see my wife 1 full day per week if I was lucky.  After 6 months, I was faced with the possibility of losing one more of “my” days when my employer announced we would be adding a Sunday Brunch menu to the offerings. Yep, it was officially time to make a change!
I came across the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Food Safety Specialist position on the Vermont employment website while querying for jobs containing the word “food”. Food and Safety were two words near and dear to me so I completed the online application, dusted off my resume, and hit “send”. After reviewing the benefits and perks of working in state government, I was reluctant to leave my fate in the hands of electronic communication and contacted the hiring manager by phone. I ended up speaking with the (at that time) Meat Inspection Section Chief, Randy Quenneville. 

Randy drilled down to one key question pretty quickly:  “Do you have any experience with slaughter or meat processing?” I had zero slaughter experience but had cut, ground, and cooked pig, sheep and quartered beef carcasses in the restaurants. Next question: “Do you have familiarity with HACCP or implementing food safety controls?” Nope, no HACCP training, but I understood basic food safety concepts like maintaining temperature and handling to avoid cross contamination, and I had passed Serve Safe training courses, and I was willing to learn the rest!
The wheels of government turn slowly. It was close to 2 months before I received notice that I had been selected for an interview. That is a good number of Sunday brunches! After two interviews, including one comprising several slaughter and processing plant visits to make sure I was OK working in that environment, I was offered the job as Food Safety Specialist in March of 2010 and started my first day with the Agency’s Meat Inspection Program on the 29th
Training for even the most exciting jobs begins with the basics, and a lot of reading! My version of basic training had me sitting in dress slacks, a button-up shirt and a tie at a cubicle just outside of the Agency’s meat inspection office in Montpelier. Packed-lunch in tow, I did my best to look the part. I was given a stack of old inspection manuals, animal disease textbooks, and federal training binders and was told to read them through while I awaited my formal USDA FSIS training. Randy explained that I would be expected to work from 7:45 to 4:30 each day with a 45 minute lunch break and reviewed the personnel policies and other “rules of the road” with me. Everything seemed so official. I had finally made it!

To give a little context on how life-changing this all was for me…

Restaurant industry work is unforgiving and does not always prioritize a sustainable work-life balance. For me, a 50-60 hour work week was the norm with one week of leave after one year of employment. Enrollment in the company’s health care plan was not a given, and dental insurance definitely was not a thing. Single-digit leave balances covered vacation, sick, and emergent leave. Taking a vacation any time the restaurant was “busy” was discouraged so that net was cast over every holiday and weekend.  

So here I was, in the ole 9-5'er with permission to have a life outside of work and the time to actually do it. What a feeling! My first requests for leave time were full of appreciation and peppered with “if it is ok with you” type language. I really meant it, too! It felt like at any moment, things could go south, and I would become “that guy” - the slacker who needs too much time off. I eventually let my guard down and learned that in my new “real job”, work-life balance is a normal thing, and I didn’t need to fear living my life in order to earn a living. I could do both...

So yes, I love the benefits, but what about the work?  It takes a special interest and fortitude to work in the slaughter and processing industry.  For me, it has been an up close and personal way to learn “where your food comes from”, which was catching fire when I was hired. 

The Food Safety world was much bigger than I had
imagined, and the learning curve felt steep at times. Learning and retaining information about regulatory frameworks, animal anatomy and pre- and post- mortem inspection procedures, sanitary dressing, zero-tolerance inspection, government acronyms and other job requirements was a fascinating and eye opening experience. I didn’t realize there was this level of focus and so many protective steps that go into getting meat and poultry to your dinner tables.
Throughout my training, I had an abundance of support from my peers and my supervisor. If I wasn’t doing well in a particular area, my supervisor helped me to improve, learn new skills, and remain engaged in the process. When I sought peer guidance, somebody always answered my questions or provided me with the tools I needed to find my own way. I really can’t say enough how much I appreciated feeling supported through this transition.   

Being on your own for the first time in a slaughter plant as a new inspector can be intimidating. Here you are - the newly trained food safety expert charged with verifying the plant’s food safety system – and the training wheels come off very quickly! At least that is how I felt. My Food Safety Specialist title meant that the public and the plants’ owners, managers and employees viewed me as a food safety expert. Living up to this title is what compelled me to keep learning then, and still does now. 
Food safety specialists have a big responsibility protecting Vermont's food supply!
Regulators like me are also sometimes faced with challenging situations and need to know that our management “has our backs”. The Agency of Agriculture’s management had my back in the early years, and still does now. Challenges that arise are handled fairly and efficiently, and ensuring food safety, employee well-being, and industry satisfaction factor prominently in the State’s conflict resolution efforts.

As I have grown more knowledgeable and become more confident in my role as an inspector, I have also gained more confidence collaborating with my peers and supervisors, now in a new role. While I remain a student focused on understanding processes and performing my daily duties in Vermont’s slaughter and processing plants, I also am now a teacher. I supervise other food safety specialists and have the opportunity to contribute in a positive way to their professional development. I also focus on process improvements for the entire meat inspection section and implement strategies that allow all of us to do our jobs, and serve you, in the best way possible.
Craig and his wife enjoying that work-life balance!
Eleven years later, and I am still with my State Meat Inspection Team, still learning and still appreciating the support that my co-workers and my superiors offer. I won’t lie - the total benefits package that the State offers is still nice, too. My employment with the State of Vermont was my first “real job”, but the bar has been set so high, I am not sure if I ever would want to look for a second one!  
Same enjoyment; different scenery!
All uncaptioned images in this article sourced from iStock photos.
Meet Vermont’s Dairy Dream Team
by: E.B. Flory, Dairy Program Section Chief
Vermont’s dairy industry is not just another pretty face! While renowned for its rolling green pastures, productive crop fields, picturesque barns, and numerous dairy animals across our landscape, Vermont Dairy also resonates with consumers. You can easily find Vermont’s award-winning dairy products at most retail stores, farmers markets, and farm stores throughout the State and well beyond our borders.  The Agency of Agriculture’s expert Dairy Team staff play a key role in educating dairy producers and processors while ensuring our dairy farms and processing facilities meet regulatory sanitation standards.
Anywhere, Vermont in the fall. Because everywhere in Vermont is great in the fall, especially when cows dot our landscape!
Since 2012, Vermont has enjoyed an almost 100% increase in the number of dairy processors. That business head-count has gone from 83 to 158 in only a decade, and more are coming on board as you read this! Vermont now has more dairy processing facilities than New York, and our industry, with support from the Agency’s Dairy Team, is a northeast leader in all things Dairy.
The Vermont dairy processing sector includes numerous “farmstead” operations where the farm side of the business produces the milk that is processed by the plant side of the business into your favorite dairy products like cheese, butter and yogurt. Other businesses ship fluid milk to off-site facilities to be made into value-added dairy products.  Some processing facilities contract directly with farms to purchase their milk while other processors utilize milk co-operatives to purchase and process Vermont milk.  The Agency’s Dairy Team provides a nexus for Vermont’s numerous farms and processors. The Dairy Team’s inspection and technical assistance program makes available to dairy farmers and processors an expert staff with decades of experience and education that benefit Vermont’s industry and consumers.
When a Vermonter wants to start a new dairy farm or processing facility, Dairy Section Chief E.B. Flory connects them with an expert team comprising a dairy farm specialist and a dairy products specialist.  The dairy farm specialist advises the prospective farmer as to what the farm needs to install, modify, or build in a facility that will house livestock, harvest milk, and store milk in a sanitary manner.  The dairy product specialist communicates requirements that apply to all operations and those that are applicable to the particular dairy products the farm aspires to manufacture. From the initial planning phase until final construction, these expert teams educate individuals on regulatory nuts and bolts and how those regulations apply to specific operations. By being involved from the beginning, the Agency’s expert dairy teams help dairy entrepreneurs utilize correct equipment and facility components, reach their goals efficiently, and ensure the dairy products you consume are wholesome and safe.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Dairy Dream Team during a staff retreat. From L to R: Dairy Product Specialist (DPS) Chantal Deojay; DPS Justin “Jay” Jeror; Dairy Products Supervisor Greg Lockwood; DPS Debrah Durkee-Barnett; DPS Steve Volk; Dairy Farm Specialist (DFS) Sue James; DFS Andrew Seward; Dairy Program Section Chief E.B. Flory; Systems Developer Chris Bliven (the Agency’s “IT Guy”); DPS Matt Maclean; Dairy Farm Supervisor Eric Perkins; Dairy Administrator Ian Wilson; DFS Jess Waterman; and not pictured but definitely an integral part of this expert team, DFS Ashley Fitzgerald.
Produce Safety, Orchard Style!
by: Tucker Diego, Agricultural Products Manager
Setting out in the dark, produce inspector Tucker Diego begins his early morning drive south to one of the state’s largest apple orchards. He strives to get there around the same time picking crews fan out across the orchard to begin the day’s harvest. The orchard Tucker visits was selected for a produce safety inspection this year. The purpose of the inspection is to review food safety practices on the farm to ensure apples are safely grown, harvested, packed, and stored.
Any day "out on the road" is a good day in the life of a Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division inspector! Sure beats looking at a computer screen! 
Tucker greets the orchard manager as he arrives. After several years visiting the orchard, Tucker knows the manager well. The two head out into the orchard to find the picking crews. An orchard this size has many orchard blocks, each with unique names, spread among the rolling hills. Tucker follows the manager’s truck down a dirt road and then up a short, steep hill. They drive through a gate which signals the edge of the orchard. Apple trees reaching 20 feet into the crisp air neatly line both sides of the farm road that leads further up and onto the crest of a hill towards a clearing. The clearing is home to a concrete pad with stacked wooden and plastic apple bins ready to receive the day’s harvest.
Looking for the picking crew in the orchard...
Tucker parks and heads out on foot to find picking crews between rows of Galas, Empires, Macs, and Honeycrisp. He’s glad to be wearing waterproof boots that keep his feet dry from the morning dew. When they reach a crew, Tucker checks the cleanliness of the apple bins and picking buckets and observes the crew expertly stripping apples from high-density plantings which are easier to pick standing on the ground.
A typical apple picking bucket used in Vermont's orchards
In other blocks, crews use metal ladders to climb up into mature trees. They deftly pick “fancy” grade apples for fresh eating into picking buckets strapped around their shoulders. Apples with defects are discarded, and pickers are careful not to bruise apples when unloading picking buckets into the waiting bins. This orchard uses apple jacks (or wagons) which are long narrow trailers towed behind a tractor with five bins on the back that can be easily loaded and unloaded.
A newer apple bin on an apple jack ready to accept the day's harvest
Tucker also checks the condition of the hand-washing and toilet facilities available to pickers in the orchard. The manager shows him where crew members can use restrooms, wash their hands, and take a break back near the concrete pad. Tucker also inspects the farm’s irrigation ponds and spray stations for potential produce safety hazards while in the orchard.

After spending most of the morning in the orchard, Tucker and the manager head back to the packing facility where apples are unloaded, sorted, packed, and stored. Tucker runs through a checklist of topics in his head: ensure birds aren’t roosting in rafters above the loading dock; confirm apple coolers are clean; review pest management logs and the location of traps; verify that workers follow food safety and hygiene practices. Tucker spends a good amount of time watching the apple packing line where bins of apples are submerged into a water “dunk tank”, float and roll down a conveyor, and pass through a series of inspection points before being hand-packed into retail bags. He uses a chlorine test strip to check chlorine levels in the dunk tank and reviews equipment sanitation records. Tucker thoroughly inspects equipment to make sure it is clean and in good repair and inspects the coolers where apples are stored in stacked bins for many months in atmosphere-controlled rooms where oxygen is reduced to around 1%.
By the afternoon, Tucker is busy wrapping up the inspection, reviewing any critical findings with the manager, and completing the inspection form which he leaves with the orchard. Often, he shares produce safety factsheets to help orchard managers find water testing labs or to provide guidance on particular issues like sanitizer recommendations and food safety best practices. Tucker ends the day driving back north, daydreaming about cider donuts, and knowing he’ll be doing it all again soon on another orchard in another corner of the state.
Apple cider donuts! In case you weren't already hungry...
Getting What You Pay For!
by: Dwight Brunnette, Weights and Measures Specialist
New homes benefit from newer construction techniques and materials that make them more efficient; however, for many Vermonters living in older less efficient homes, using more energy is the only way to maintain reasonable indoor temperatures in the winter.  For many, this means relying on heating oil, and lots of it!  Generating heat and hot water is especially tough on Vermont’s vulnerable citizens who may be living on a fixed income.  For Vermonters, oil delivery trucks are a common sight on our roadways, especially during the winter months.  Traveling between houses, businesses, and farms, these specialized fuel trucks distribute home heating oil, kerosene, gasoline and diesel, depending on the need of the consumer. 
How can you, as a Vermont consumer, be sure that you are getting what you pay for even when you may not be present for your fuel delivery? The Agency of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures (W&M) specialists provide an essential service to Vermonters! We ensure, through yearly inspections and testing, that the oil delivery trucks, equipment and operators are delivering what the consumers are paying for.  Vermont Law requires fuel businesses to deliver products accurately to consumers. Home heating fuel dealers ensure accuracy by utilizing metering systems similar to gas pumps used to fuel our vehicles. Home heating fuel delivery systems must be maintained and checked periodically to ensure accuracy. Vermont W&M specialists use a clever but simple device called a “prover” to test the accuracy of the delivery system. We introduced you to this piece of equipment in the
September 2021 edition of Field Notes, and we invite you to keep reading now for a deeper dive into this interesting inspection that protects Vermonters!
Weights & Measures 100-Gallon Testing Unit (Prover)
A “prover” is a specially designed, calibrated, stainless steel container made for testing liquids.   The standard prover used to test oil product delivery trucks has a 100-gallon test volume. To begin the test, the W&M specialist starts the meter at zero and then fills the prover to the volume to be tested.  When testing oil delivery trucks, the standard is a 100-gallon draft.  The specialist fills the prover until the display on the delivery truck meter reads 100 gallons, checks the volume delivered by reading markings on a glass tube called the ‘sight-glass’, and records the result. If you remember high school chemistry, the sight glass looks like a typical graduated cylinder and is read much the same way.  The markings are in 5 cubic inch volume divisions. 
After reading the prover, the specialist determines whether the results are within the tolerance for delivery for a Vehicle Tank Meter (VTM). The tolerance is the allowable amount a delivery can vary from the exact reading on the testing device (prover). The tolerance allowed for a VTM is adopted by The National Conference on Weights & Measures and published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Vermont adopts these regulations and tolerances for regulatory purposes. In the case of a 100-gallon fuel oil test, the tolerance is 69.3 cubic inches, plus or minus from 100 gallons delivered. There are 23099.93 cubic inches in 100 gallons (US). This allowable error is 0.3%, which is extremely small and imparts little economic impact on either the device owner or the consumer.  It also indicates how incredibly accurate a meter can be!
Vehicle Tank Meter used for commercial fuel deliveries
Even though VTMs can be very accurate in design and in testing, other steps in the fuel delivery process can make a delivery inaccurate.  Faulty hoses and nozzles, malalignment of display numbers, failure to start the delivery on zero and/or maintain the proper delivery volume and pressure, inadequate maintenance or mechanical problems, and other operator error can lead to inaccurate delivers.  During an inspection, the W&M specialist monitors the operator using the delivery equipment to identify and troubleshoot issues. The specialist’s ability to identify problems and explain them to the operator helps to ensure deficiencies are remedied.  If left uncorrected, these issues could lead to injury, spills, improper delivery, or loss to the business or consumer. 
Inspector Dwight Brunnette testing a Vehicle Tank Meter in the early morning hours
The VTM inspection is a process with many parts, some human and some mechanical, but this specialized inspection helps ensure operator safety and benefits the consumer by ensuring you get what you pay for!
The Invisible but Essential Front Line
by: Dr. Kaitlynn Levine, Assistant State Veterinarian/Animal Health Section Chief
Including some of the articles in this edition, many Field Notes newsletter articles created by the Agency’s Food Safety and Consumer Protection (FSCP) Division highlight the Division’s efforts to help ensure your food is free of contamination, has been properly handled and processed, and is traceable to its source. But the FSCP Division is not the only team working on this mission. While we seek to limit disease and contamination from natural sources, our colleagues at the Vermont Intelligence Center (VIC) are on the watch for intentional harm. Why should you care? Keep reading to find out!
There are no known specific threats to Vermont’s agriculture sector at this time; let’s get that out there right at the start. However, an attack on Vermont agriculture could have far-reaching human health, animal health and economic consequences. It is important for all of us, including you, to be aware and remain vigilant. The VIC, a partnership between Vermont State Police and federal agencies such as Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, and US Customs and Border Protection, takes this threat seriously. VIC Intelligence Analysts recognize that an attack on agriculture is an attack on all of us.
Lieutenant Shawn Loan, VIC Commander
In July 2021, a new VIC position was created to specifically monitor threats to Vermont’s critical infrastructure, including agriculture. Meet Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Critical Infrastructure (CI) Intelligence Analyst Ken Deschaine.
Analyst Ken Deschaine, enjoying some well-deserved time off!
A twenty-year Army veteran, Analyst Deschaine has returned to New England to help protect us closer to home. His primary focus is on the 5 “life-line” CI sectors: Transportation, Water, Energy, Communications, and Emergency Services, all of which are essential to Vermont’s food security. The VIC recognized the need to create a CT/CI analyst position to foster the development of an Intelligence Liaison Program. This will enable the exchange of information, data, and knowledge between public and private sectors. It also allows for improved coordination between the intelligence gathering agencies, law enforcement, state personnel like the members of the FSCP Division, and Vermont’s consumers, farmers, and business owners. The VIC’s work touches every one of us!
Photo sourced from iStock Photo
While the VIC and Analyst Deschaine are monitoring the “big picture”, we are asking you to be diligent at the farm- and business-gate. Secure your facilities and equipment to decrease unauthorized access. Ensure your computers and other electronics have up-to-date security software. Grants are available to enhance cybersecurity, and the VIC can help you weed through this information if you contact them at the email address below. Know who is coming and going from your property, and report suspicious activities to the Vermont See Something, Say Something tip line at: 844-84V-TIPS or via text by texting “VTIPS” to 274637. For grant inquiries please reach out to the Homeland Security Unit who will gladly walk you through the application process. They can be reached at or 802-241-5447.

Protecting Vermont and our food supply requires we all do our part, and we welcome Analyst Deschaine to the Vermont team!
Analyst Deschaine paddling with his 7-year-old rescue Akita, Huxley. As a canine “flatlander” from Georgia, Huxley will be taking his first deep dive into "real" snow this upcoming winter. Since Ken reports that Huxley is a dog that loves kayaking, camping and hiking, we are betting that this pup will become a huge "Vermont Winter" fan!
Please note: In the spirit of bolstering communication between the public and private sectors, Analyst Deschaine recently shared a cybersecurity alert regarding BlackMatter Ransomware, which targets food and agricultural sector businesses. He requested that we share the information with you. Follow the link above to learn more about the technical aspects of this ransomware, as well as cyber-attack prevention and response recommendations and checklists. Consider implementing the mitigation best practices or sharing this document with your IT support service personnel to ensure your agricultural business is protected! Thank you, Analyst Deschaine!
That brings us to the end of our journey for this edition of FSCP Field Notes.

Invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe to future editions of Field Notes

We hope you have enjoyed the journey, and as always, thanks for taking the ride with us! We appreciate the opportunity to serve you and your agricultural businesses.
We welcome questions about this content and suggestions for topics to cover in future newsletters. If you have thoughts, email us
or give us a shout at (802)828-2426!
Copyright © 2021 Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, All rights reserved.

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