How to Become a Food and Drug Inspector

Jan 02, 2019

Research the requirements to become a food and drug inspector. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in this field.

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  • 1:29 Meet Experience Requirements
  • 2:18 Complete a Degree Program
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Food and Drug Inspectors

Food and drug inspectors, also known as quality control inspectors, work to ensure that products are safe for human consumption. Their main responsibility is to examine food or pharmaceuticals at varying stages of the manufacturing process in order to ensure quality standards are being met. Professionals also take on advanced positions as consumer safety officers responsible for implementing safety procedures and designing inspection techniques for pharmaceutical products.

These food and drug inspectors work in a variety of settings, but are largely employed by government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Visits to processing plants require protection from airborne particles, noise, and large machinery. People in this position possess a bachelor's degree and inspection experience.

Key Skills and Abilities Excellent oral and written communication skills; problem-solving and decision-making abilities; strong operation monitoring and analytical skills; familiarity with digital imaging, data analysis, and tolerance analysis software; and the ability to use weights, scales, and sorting or grading machines
Degree Level High school diploma and specialized experience (minimum); bachelor's degree required for advanced positions
Degree Field(s) Biology, math, agriculture, engineering, chemistry, or the physical sciences
Experience Varies according to education
Salary $36,000 per year (Median annual salary for quality control inspectors)

Sources: online job postings (May 2014), O*Net Online. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Meet Experience Requirements

Entry-level food and drug inspector positions are available to applicants with a high school diploma. Employers provide on-the-job training to inspectors who perform the most basic tasks, though more advanced job responsibilities require additional experience. Employers of some food inspectors, for example, stipulate that applicants have one year of relevant full-time experience with food processing, preparation, and sanitation procedures. This experience includes work in food manufacturing, restaurant management, or commercial food preparation.

Food and drug inspectors looking to demonstrate their proficiency and advance in the field should consider earning professional credentials from such agencies as the American Society for Quality, whose Quality Inspector Certification is available to applicants who meet experience requirements and pass a written exam.

Complete a Degree Program

Some employers allow more advanced food inspectors to substitute a bachelor's degree for work experience. Earning up to 30 hours of college credit also helps applicants meet minimum education requirements for positions as consumer safety officers responsible for ensuring the quality of pharmaceuticals.

Aspiring food inspectors and consumer safety officers major in biology, chemistry, or a more specialized field, such as nutrition science and engineering. Courses in a nutrition science program, for example, cover principles of food preparation, nutrition for children, community health, and food production management. Some courses involve laboratory work.

Students can better prepare for inspector careers with internships in the field. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service provides students with on-the-job training options under experienced food inspectors. They assist with meat and poultry inspection and learn about proper sanitation. Applicants for food inspector internships must have completed 12 semester hours in food science, animal science, or nutrition.

It's also a good idea to get experience working with relevant software while in school. Food and drug inspectors need to be familiar with the technology used to automate manufacturing processes. While enrolled in a degree program, take advantage of opportunities to learn about quality control and systems automation software.

Career Advancement

After one or more years of experience working in meat or poultry processing plants, food inspectors are eligible to move up to positions with higher pay. They also advance to supervisory or team leader roles.

Positions as consumer safety officers with the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research will require experience developing or implementing quality control procedures. Candidates for these positions look for opportunities to develop their reporting abilities as well as their project management and organizational skills.

In order to become a food and drug inspector, aspiring quality control experts should make sure to earn any and all education and credentials associated with this position, with the ultimate aim of one day moving into a supervisory officer role.

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