Food Safety Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed for a career in food safety. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degrees and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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Food safety professionals work to ensure certain safety measures are adhered to in a wide variety of industries. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for obtaining a position in this field.

Essential Information

There is a broad selection of food safety careers to choose from, including food scientists and food inspectors. A minimum of a bachelor's degree in agricultural studies, food science or a related field is required for the majority of food safety jobs; however, those with work experience in the field may qualify for some positions.

Career Food Scientist Food Inspector Food Safety Specialist
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree; master's or doctoral degree for academic research Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% increase* 1% increase to 1% decrease** 1% increase to 1% decrease**
Median Salary (2015) $65,840* $43,380** $43,380**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine

Career Options

Food Scientists

Food scientists use several different scientific principles, like chemistry and microbiology, to figure out the safest ways to process foods while making them healthy and tasty. They analyze the nutritional content of foods, such as the levels of vitamins, minerals, fat, sugar, protein and sodium. They also determine the safest and most effective ways to process, package, preserve and distribute food products. Additionally, food scientists ensure additives and preservatives are in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Food Scientist Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), food scientists working in product development must earn a minimum of a bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences or a related field. Courses for this degree include food chemistry, processing, engineering, microbiology and analysis. Food scientists working in research at academic institutions must earn a master's or doctoral degree, which may take an additional 2-4 years to complete.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that food scientists and technologists will see roughly average job growth (5%) from 2014-2024. The agency also reported that food scientists earned a median salary of $65,840 in 2015.

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Food Inspector

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service branch maintains quality assurance on all aspects of meat, poultry and egg manufacturing. USDA food inspectors ensure proper sanitation guidelines in private commercial slaughtering factories and on farms where eggs are produced. They also check that slaughtering practices are done in a way that prevents diseased and contaminated meat and poultry. Import food inspectors check to make sure imported food products meet the same regulations as those produced domestically.

Food Inspector Requirements

The USDA requires that entry-level food inspectors have a bachelor's degree in a food safety field or one year of work experience that entailed ensuring food sanitation, monitoring commercial handling and preparing food products for human consumption. Applicants must also identify and apply basic guidelines for working in food product environments.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net OnLine reports that the number of agriculture inspector jobs, which includes food inspectors, is expected to remain roughly unchanged from 2014-2024. According to the site, the median salary for jobs in this field was $43,380 in 2015.

Food Safety Specialist

Food safety specialists, also referred to as environmental health practitioners, work for private corporations and for government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They ensure sanitary procedures for processing, preparing and packaging food, and inspect equipment.

Food safety specialists also ensure proper storage and distribution procedures, safe crop-growing practices, and correctly labeled foods. Additionally, they inspect food service businesses for sanitary practices. They are also responsible for disseminating information to the public when food-related diseases occur.

Food Safety Requirements

In general, food safety specialists must earn at least a bachelor's degree in a scientific field, such as biology, environmental health or chemistry. These professionals may also have a master's degree in environmental health science or a closely related field.

Food safety specialists may consider becoming a Certified Professional of Food Safety (CP-FS) conferred by the National Environmental Health Association. There are several routes to eligibility, which may include educational and work experience requirements. Qualified candidates may then take the CP-FS certification exam, which includes questions on foodborne illnesses, food safety inspections, regulatory requirements and Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points requirements. Those who successfully complete the test earn the title of CF-PS.

Career and Salary Information

According to O*Net OnLine, food safety specialists are counted along with food inspectors. The number of jobs for food safety specialists is expected to remain roughly constant from 2014-2024. O*Net OnLine also reported that the median wages for food safety specialists in 2015 were the same as the median wages for food inspectors - $43,380.

While each of these positions can be found in separate industries and require different sets of tasks to be completed, the main focus is to ensure food safety regulations are adhered to. Job growth for these careers is projected to remain at an average or lower than average rate through 2024, but professionals may expect to earn anywhere from about $43,000 to nearly $66,000 per year.

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