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Meet Shae Wasyliw, CFIA meat hygiene inspector

I've always wanted to work with animals. A childhood filled with fishing, hunting and helping on a family friend's farm in the gorgeous foothills of Southern Alberta had a lot to do with that.

Throughout high school and my post-secondary studies, I built an even stronger connection to animals and the environment. I was determined to learn as much as I could about the agriculture and livestock industries.

Hard work pays off. I'm now a cattle rancher and meat hygiene inspector at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). It might not be the combination my younger self envisioned, but I'm thrilled to be able to experience farming from so many angles. As an inspector, I see another side of agriculture while contributing to public health.

Above all, I've remained faithful to my lifelong dream of weaving my love of animals into my work.

Not a linear path

Growing up in High River, Alberta, animals were a constant presence in my life. I spent a lot of time at a nearby farm where I took on more responsibilities as the years passed.

From the age of 10 until I finished high school, I was part of 4-H Canada. This non-profit organization has the mission to empower youth to be responsible, caring and contributing leaders that effect positive change in the world around them. It was an incredible experience, and I eventually switched gears from veterinary science to agriculture and sustainability.

Venturing to college, I explored different avenues. I earned a diploma in Animal Science Technology with a major in Beef Science from Lakeland College in 2019. I then returned for an Agricultural Business Diploma in 2020.

Both programs provided hands-on training, which made me realize something very important: pursuing a career with animals is not a fixed path. There are many options, and getting exposure to different fields is part of the journey.

Although it hasn't been easy paving my way in this industry as a young woman, I've already come a long way, and continue to learn from those around me while offering my fresh perspective and helping to drive change.

Before products arrive at your grocery stores

After my studies, I joined the CFIA as a meat hygiene inspector.

I mainly work at a beef processing plant where I verify compliance with meat hygiene regulations through routine sampling, inspection and prevention methods. At this part of the food supply chain, I help to make sure the products that end up on grocery store shelves are safe to eat.

I do this by conducting post-mortem inspections to identify pathological defects that can't be detected at first glance. Heads, tongues, hearts, kidneys, livers and lungs… it's fascinating to check for all the indicators of a healthy animal.

If there are signs of possible contamination or pathology, I remove it from the line or hold the affected product for further analysis to help keep consumers safe.

I'm sometimes called upon to help with other priorities, such as the recent avian influenza (bird flu) response in Western Canada, to help my fellow CFIA inspectors carry out vital work in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Through conducting surveillance of wild birds and commercial flocks and enforcing biosecurity measures, inspectors on the frontlines of the avian influenza response help  stop the spread of the disease. When an outbreak occurs, inspectors work with the affected producer to ensure that the infected birds are humanely destroyed and disposed of, and the premises are properly disinfected.

Knowing my worth

It's exciting to be part of the beef industry's next generation. I know that as I join colleagues with a wealth of experience, I am forging my own journey.

At the same time, I'm thrilled to work for an organization that inspects food for safety risks, responds to animal diseases that could threaten our herds, and helps to support access to international markets for high-quality products like Canadian beef.

Most workplaces today are made up of employees from multiple generations. I've learned that the more we can share our experiences and keep an open mind, the more we can accomplish together to make a difference for Canadians.

With every piece of beef I inspect, I know that I'm helping to keep their backyard barbeques and spaghetti dinners safe to enjoy–from coast to coast to coast!

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