We Are Agriculture is a year-long series that will highlight the hard-work done by employees across the Department of Agriculture. Parker Whitt, Environmental Specialist II with our Structural Pest Control & Pesticides Division, is one of those employees. Stay tuned each Wednesday here on the blog or any of our social media accounts and join us in honoring those who continue to drive our state’s agriculture industry forward each day!
Did you know that agriculture is responsible for ensuring you and your family sleep happy and healthy at night? Parker Whitt, Environmental Specialist II with the Sleep Products Section of our Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division, has been monitoring and inspecting manufacturing facilities and retail stores across the state to make sure only the best products are being sold to you.
As a young man, Parker did not expect to end up in the agriculture industry. “When I graduated from Appalachian State University with a Master’s degree in Biology, I had no idea where my career was going to take me but I didn’t think it would be agriculture,” he said. “However, a few years out of college, I ended up being with Forsyth county where my journey to N.C. agriculture began.” In 1987, Parker started working with the environmental health section of Forsyth county. He worked for many years as a mosquito and tick expert, helping a variety of individuals across the industry identify and manage them. In fact, he continues to educate people on these insects at schools and other events across the southeast and is the author of 13 scientific publications, including a mosquito and tick identification guide that he uses throughout his trainings. “Ticks and mosquitos not only fascinate me and have been a huge foundation of my adult career, but all of that work and research also helped prepare me for the role that I hold today with the NCDA,” he said.
In 2011, Parker started working for the Sleep Products section of Structural Pest Control & Pesticides as an Environmental Senior Specialist II. Since then, he has grown to become a highly-trusted environmental specialist in the division. “Bedding includes mattresses, sofas, recliners, outdoor furniture pads, travel neck pillows, decorative pillows and more,” he said. “Our job in this division is to monitor and inspect the facilities and retail stores that these products are manufactured and sold through, to ensure that they are abiding by the law that says, ‘all bedding products manufactured in North Carolina have to be registered with the NCDA&CS.'” Division inspectors are separated into counties and regions that they oversee to ensure quality products are made and sold across the state. Parker is responsible for the Piedmont area.
You know that tag that is found on mattresses and other bedding products that you aren’t supposed to remove? Parker and his team are responsible for monitoring those tags! “Some people are shocked to find out that we actually exist,” he said, “but being a Sleep Products inspector is a very important job that ensures consumer safety across the state.”
A typical day for Parker depends on the season. During the winter and early spring, he can be found inspecting N.C. plants and manufacturing facilities to make sure that they are abiding by appropriate procedures and have an updated license. “Each year, manufacturers have to renew their license with us and I am in charge of inspecting the 100+ facilities in my region for that process,” Parker said. He is also responsible for inspecting retail stores, such as Target, TJ Maxx and Ashley’s Furniture, and rent-to-own facilities to check product registration and sanitization practices.
Facilities now have two options in regard to sanitization of used mattresses. “A few years ago, the only option available was to heat the mattresses at 230 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two hours to ensure sterilization, which is still an option today,” Parker said, “but since many of those establishments have to pay for that service, they are now opting to use a Sterifab sanitizer, which ensures another level of disinfection and can be performed by a licensed employee of the plant.” Our Structural Pest Control & Pesticides Division issues a license to these sanitizers as well as instructions to their employees on the proper protocols when sanitizing mattresses. “It is imperative that the sanitizer be used correctly, so a part of my job is to instruct people how to use it,” Parker said, “then sometimes on routine inspections we will have someone spray a mattress for us to ensure those practices are still being used.”
If a problem is seen within a facility or a retail product, Parker takes the issue directly to the source, which in most cases is the manager. If the item is in retail stores it will be written up and handled appropriately. “One example in used mattresses is stains. The rule is that if a stain will not come out upon cleaning, the mattress can’t be sold,” Parker explained. “So if I see a stained mattress on the floor, I will take it to the manager, and have it pulled from the sales floor.” Although this does not happen often, Parker is proud of the role he plays to protect consumers from products that are unsafe for them and their families. “We really are the frontline of consumer safety here in this division,” he said, “and although it sometimes goes unnoticed, we are proud of the work that we do to keep ourselves, our families, our friends and our community members safe.”
When he first started with the division, Parker was responsible for transferring many of the divisions documents to a digital format, which is still a source of pride for him today. “We had a lot of things on paper when I first started. There weren’t any electronic forms or use of technology then but I have done a lot to get us up to date,” he said. “Because of that, we are now able to service our customers better and more efficiently.”
Although he loves most aspects of his job, Parker really enjoys educating people about the work done across his division and why it is important. “In my position, I have the opportunity to give presentations across the community to educate people on what we do,” he said. “Going out and sharing that information is rewarding because it helps people understand why this job is important and how it keeps them safe on a daily basis.”
When he is not in the office, Parker can often be found at schools or other events around the community educating the public on different species of snakes, ticks, mosquitoes and bed bugs. “Ever since I was a little boy I have been fascinated with snakes,” he said. “In fact, I’ve had them as pets ever since I was ten years old!” The most Parker has ever had at one time is thirty-seven, although today he only has four: a corn snake, a copperhead, a mole king snake and a baby rusty rat snake. “I’m very knowledgeable about snakes, how to distinguish one from another and how to handle them,” he said, “so it is a lot of fun for me to travel and teach children and adults alike about these reptiles.” Last year when the cobra got loose in Raleigh, news stations in Winston-Salem and other surrounding areas contacted Parker for interviews. “I have done several interviews for news stations to talk about that specific snake as well as other snakes,” he said. “People want to know about them even if they are a bit scared of them and that proved true when the cobra got loose. I was honored to be a spokesperson for our community through that.”
Parker also enjoys playing with his dog Bentley (pictured above), watching sports on TV and playing golf. In fact, every day Parker and Bentley have play time where they play ball and then come in to watch sports on TV if there is a game on. “I’ve always been an animal lover and Bentley is definitely my best friend,” he said. Join us in thanking Parker for all of his hard work to ensure that we sleep safe and sound!