Food Safety Health Inspector Training and Education Program Options
Individuals interested in studying food safety can enroll in a variety of degree programs in food science or food safety, including bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs.
Students studying food science and safety take extensive coursework in chemistry, biology, mathematics and microbiology, among other subjects, through bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. Undergraduate degrees provide foundational knowledge in the field that can be relayed into graduate-level studies through master's and doctoral degrees. Graduate degree programs are designed for those interested in research or leadership roles within the industry.
- Program Levels: Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.
- Prerequisites: High school diploma with aptitude in math and science for bachelor's program; bachelor's degree in related field of study for master's program; master's degree in field and GRE scores for doctoral program.
- Other Requirements: Internship for bachelor's degree; thesis and/or practicum for master's degree; research project and dissertation for doctoral degree.
- Online Availability: Programs in food science and safety are not typically offered online.
Bachelor of Science in Food Science
A four-year bachelor's degree program in food science encourages students to study topics in food service, research and safety. Often offered with the option to choose food safety as a concentration area, food science curricula combines the study of microbiology, chemistry, mathematics and biology with an emphasis on food testing, safety and preservation. Coursework examines the process of engineering food, processing food for mass consumption and adherence to food laws. Chemistry courses introduce students to the biological basis of foods, and studies in food safety explore the growth of microorganisms in unsafe storage conditions. During these programs, students typically complete an internship in a food processing, engineering or distribution setting for hands-on learning opportunities. Topics in major coursework include:
- Thermal processing
- Food stability
- Harvest technology
- Milling processes
- Food-borne pathogens
Master of Science in Food Safety
Students pursuing a two-year Master of Science in Food Safety prepare for leadership positions in the highly diverse food industry. Schools typically offer non-thesis options for students interested in a more interdisciplinary approach that requires additional elective courses. Food safety courses cover issues in professionalism, epidemiology, food legislation and protection. A master's curriculum introduces students to numerous topics in food safety, from safely harvesting and processing foods to the distribution of properly packaged foods in a temperature-controlled environment. Food safety issues discussed include government regulations, food toxins and international food safety laws. Students conduct food safety research, complete a graduate project and participate in a food safety practicum in a government or industry setting. The following topics might also be covered:
- Biological contaminants
- Viral pathogens
- Color additives
- Tamper resistance packaging
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Food Science
A Ph.D. program in food safety prepares students for careers in research, education and government. Doctoral programs require a substantial amount of academic research and writing, including a comprehensive research project or article suitable for publication and a doctoral dissertation. Ph.D. candidates study food policies, risk management, consumer education and communications, along with coursework in food-borne illness and contaminants. Research projects provide students with the scientific knowledge needed to improve the quality, safety and distribution of food in the United States, as well the safe transportation of food exports. Other areas of study include disease epidemics and methods for stopping the distribution of contaminated foods. Some common course topics include:
- Food quality control
- Disease investigations
- Chemical hazards
- Food safety management
- Risk reduction
Popular Career Options
Graduates with bachelor's and master's degrees in the food science field qualify for careers in a variety of settings, from food safety agencies to food processing plants. Popular career options include:
- Food safety inspector
- Food service manager
- Food processor
- Food chemistry researcher
- Food commodities broker
Employment opportunities for doctoral graduates exist in a variety of areas, especially positions in research, academia and government. Potential job titles for Ph.D. graduates include:
- Research and development director
- Food microbiologist
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agricultural inspectors held over 13,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2014, with most positions existing in federal and state government agencies (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that jobs in this profession are expected to grow 2% between 2012 and 2022. The median annual salary of an agricultural inspector as of May 2014 was $43,090, per BLS data.
Undergraduates can benefit from enrolling in a master's degree program in a related area, to improve job outlook and salary expectations. Master's degree options include food science, agriculture, food safety and life sciences. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service sponsors training seminars and workshops that cover governmental regulations and innovative technologies for inspectors in the agricultural industry.