Should I Become a Meat Inspector?
A meat inspector is a type of food inspector who ensures that commercial supplies of meat, poultry, and eggs comply with federal regulations as set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Like other types of quality control inspectors, meat inspectors work on a full-time basis, primarily during regular business hours. If a meat industry-related emergency occurs, like a contagion breakout, overtime, night, and weekend hours might be required. Some travel might be required of meat inspectors to processing plants.
Meat inspectors work at private commercial slaughtering plants, inspecting animals before and after slaughter. They also ensure the processing plant meets all federal regulations for processing and sanitation. When not completing inspections, meat inspectors work in an office setting, often writing reports and making recommendations.
Agricultural inspectors, including meat inspectors, made a mean annual wage of $43,380, as of May 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree or one year of job-related experience|
|Degree Field||Biological, mathematical, physical or agricultural sciences|
|Licensure or Certification||None|
|Experience||One year of experience in food processing, as a veterinary technician, a chef in a large restaurant, a butcher or in sanitation practices at a food handling and preparation company|
|Key Skills||Ability to work in hazardous working conditions, lift, carry, push up to 44 pounds, no chronic eye disease, good vision and ability to distinguish shades of color|
|Salary (May 2014)||$43,630 per year (Mean annual wage for all agricultural inspectors)|
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics
To obtain an entry-level position, meat inspectors usually need either a bachelor's degree or a year of job related experience. Aspiring meat inspectors should have the following key skills:
- Ability to perform frequent physical activity: Although some parts of the job involve sitting at a station, meat inspectors must also be comfortable with standing, walking, kneeling and climbing for extended periods during the work day.
- Use of both hands: Meat inspectors need to make rapid, repetitive motions when inspecting cuts of meat, and they may be occasionally required to lift up to 50 pounds.
- Good vision and ability to distinguish shades of color: As part of the inspection process, meat inspectors need to keep an eye out for coloration that may indicate a product is not fit for consumption.
- Ability to handle hazardous working conditions: From slippery surfaces to strong smells, meat inspectors need to be comfortable with working in a loud, industrial environment. They may work both indoors and outdoors, in close proximity to machines and other employees and in hot and below freezing temperatures.
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Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Individuals interested in becoming meat inspectors may want to obtain a bachelor's degree in the agricultural, physical, biological or mathematical sciences. For example, individuals may pursue a bachelor's degree in animal science with a concentration in production and industry, which provides education for careers in animal agribusiness, including meat inspector. Another option is a bachelor's degree in applied science with a concentration in food service management. This degree provides training and knowledge in food production.
To help with their education preparation, aspiring meat inspectors can:
- Pursue USDA student programs. Students interested in food safety and public health may participate in the FSIS Volunteer Student Program. Students are paired with consumer safety officers, inspectors and other mentors at processing plants to learn the techniques and skills needed to ensure that meat and poultry products meant for public consumption are safe and properly labeled.
Students may apply for the USDA Veterinary Student Employment Program, where they'll work directly under the supervision of an FSIS officer. A minimum 6-week commitment is needed.
Step 2: Seek Job Experience
Having at least one year of job-related experience and the appropriate job-related skills may allow individuals without a degree to become meat inspectors. The USDA looks for applicants with experience working at food manufacturing, slaughter or processing plants, as butchers/meat cutters in a wholesale or retail business, as quality control testers in the food or beverage industry, or as chefs or cooks in a commercial environment. Other types of qualified experience include working as a veterinary technician or as a supervisor in the food or livestock industry.
Step 3: Pursue USDA Training
The FSIS partners with various colleges and universities to offer training program for aspiring meat inspectors. These programs cover areas like include food safety regulation, poultry slaughter inspection and basic livestock slaughter inspection. Training programs to become a USDA veterinary medical officer and for food safety education also exist.
Step 4: Obtain a Food Inspector Position
Individuals who are ready to begin the application process can submit a resume and complete an online application package at USAjobs.gov. They then need to complete an online questionnaire and provide any other documents requested, such as college transcripts. Applicants may select up to five geographic regions in which they want to work, and selected individuals will be notified of their hiring eligibility.
FSIS inspectors are generally promoted to jobs in which they inspect processed meat and poultry products, verify plant operation records and ensure compliance with federal regulations.
Remember that a meat inspector needs to have either a bachelor's degree or one year of job-related experience and the ability to handle hazardous working conditions.