CORNELIA — Not far removed from his high school days in North Hall, Sam Smith of Clermont began his career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was president and a rock ’n’ roll group from Liverpool, England, invaded the U.S. pop music charts.
Day after day and week after week for 54 years, Smith has been inspecting chickens at Georgia processing plants to verify they comply with federal regulations.
Most of the day Smith would stand at a slaughter line inspecting carcasses making sure they met government guidelines.
“We look at all the birds,” Smith said. “You stand a lot on a cement floor, but you can also sit down as you inspect.”
On Thursday, the USDA inspection team at the Fieldale Farms chicken plant in Cornelia where Smith works recognized his more than half a century on the job as he prepares for retirement.
They brought him balloons, cake and gifts and catered a lunch featuring ribs, chicken and sides.
William McCampbell, the public health veterinarian who heads the inspection team, presented Smith with a plaque that summed up his service.
“You leave behind a legacy of achievement & encouragement,” the inscription on the award reads in part. “You proved that it doesn’t take a loud voice to accomplish tremendous things.”
McCampbell said Smith is one of 12 inspectors at the Fieldale facility who split two shifts — one from 6 a.m. to mid-afternoon and the other from 2:30-11 p.m. In a single day they see about 250,000 chickens.
Aside from inspecting the birds, McCampbell said his team also checks to make sure the facility and equipment are clean and meet federal standards. McCampbell said Smith is the longest-serving inspector in the Atlanta district that includes South Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Smith followed in his father’s footsteps as a food safety inspector.
“My dad worked in chicken processing plants all over Georgia,” Smith said. “He’s been retired 30 years, and he’s 94.”
Smith, 73, said he’s worked at processing plants in Marietta, Ellijay and Gainesville before coming to Fieldale Farms in Cornelia in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was president.
Making the 20-minute commute to work from Clermont to Cornelia over the past 36 years, Smith said he’s amazed at how big the chicken industry has grown.
“We inspect a lot more chickens now,” he said. “I can’t believe I started doing this when I was 19.”