Begin a Career As a Food Inspector: Requirements, Duties and Outlook
Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a food inspector. Get an overview of the requirements as well as details about education, training and job responsibilities to determine if this is the career for you.
Food inspectors monitor food manufacturers, distributors, and processors for safety and sanitation regulation compliance and report violations to the appropriate authorities. Some states offer inspector trainee programs for candidates with a combination of education and work experience. Federal positions, such as those with the USDA, require a bachelor's degree or equivalent field experience and successful passage of a written examination. Certification requirements vary by state, and optional certification is available through the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).
Requirements for a Food Inspector
Aspiring food inspectors may qualify for state-level food inspector trainee programs through a combination of education and work experience that incorporates sanitation and scientific techniques.
For example, the New York State Department of Civil Service requires trainee candidates to have completed coursework in food technology, chemistry, epidemiology, biology and environmental health, or to have full-time work experience in positions such as a meat inspector, quality control technician or environmental health technician.
Food inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must have a bachelor's degree or a year of food industry experience that includes understanding and complying with food safety standards. A written test is also required for the USDA inspector positions.
Travel to inspection sites necessitates a valid driver's license. Many states require that the applicant pass an examination and become certified. Becoming certified through a nationally recognized organization, such as the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), requires a bachelor's degree in an applied food or environmental science.
Certification programs through the NEHA introduce proper food handling practices, elements of food safety management, detection and prevention of food borne disease, food sustainability and inspection processes (www.nehacert.org).
Duties for a Food Inspector
Food inspectors monitor food distributors, processors and manufacturers for safety and sanitation violations that could lead to food being contamination with adulterants or bacteria. They may inspect live animals and carcasses at a slaughterhouse or examine food imports at a port for mislabeling or other food safety issues. Inspectors report violations to the appropriate regulatory agency and are responsible for ensuring that foods are suitable for human consumption.
Outlook for a Food Inspector
A food inspector has the potential to become employed through many associations and government organizations, such as the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as state and county government agencies. These government positions are mostly impervious to economic upsets and offer good job security. The USDA reported that it employs over 7,500 food and consumer safety inspectors nationwide (www.fsis.usda.gov).
In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average annual salary of agricultural and food science technicians of $39,000. This group included those who inspect prepared foods as well as agricultural crops. Outlook for the career is projected to be average, at 5% growth from 2014-2024.