How to Become a Restaurant Inspector: Career Guide

Aug 09, 2019

Learn how to become a restaurant inspector. Research the job description and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in restaurant inspection.

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  • 0:03 Restaurant Inspector…
  • 1:05 Earn a College Degree
  • 2:08 Check State Requirements
  • 2:42 Obtain Official Registration
  • 3:46 Continue Education

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Restaurant Inspector Jobs Info

Environmental health specialists, or sanitarians, carry out inspections of restaurants, as well as a variety of other establishments, including schools, grocery stores, daycare centers, motels, and boarding homes, for compliance with health and safety regulations. These professionals usually work regular business hours, though weekend or evening work is possible. They can be exposed to food contaminants or waste during inspections, but wearing protective gear can protect them from illness or infection, if necessary. A restaurant health inspector also has to deal with the stress of deciding whether an eating establishment can continue to do business.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Occupational health and safety or a comparable discipline
Certification Certification is voluntary and recommended
Key Skills Strong communication skills, detail-oriented, problem-solving skills, knowledge of advanced testing equipment, knowledge of environmental health and safety regulations
Median Salary (2018)* $73,020 (for occupational health and safety specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Health Inspector for Restaurants

1. Earn a College Degree

Many states require that sanitarians hold a bachelor's degree in the sciences or environmental health. An environmental health degree program focuses on environmental laws and regulations, as well as risk assessment and industrial topics. Coursework often includes biology, chemistry, microbiology, and toxicology. A degree in another area with 30 semester units in basic sciences is also commonly accepted. Aspirants are advised to check their individual states' requirements.

Universities may offer environmental health majors opportunities to undertake internships in the field, although they may not be related to restaurant inspection specifically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers internship opportunities through its Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health program, which allows students to participate in a summer project for which they may be able to receive academic credit. An internship may also count toward work experience requirements to earn registration, depending on the state.

2. Check State Requirements

Aspiring environmental health specialists are encouraged to check their states' specific requirements for registration; sometimes earning a specified degree allows applicants to bypass work requirements. However, related work experience on top of specified education requirements is mandatory in some states as a prerequisite to achieving full registered sanitarian status, although the stipulated amount may vary. Opportunities can be found with local, state, or federal governmental health agencies or in private industry.

3. Obtain Official Registration

The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) offers certification as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS). This credential is obtained by passing an exam, which includes questions about food protection, hazardous materials, air quality, emergency planning, wastewater management, and other environmental health issues. The REHS/RS is accepted credentialing for some states; others may have their own licensing and testing procedures.

Candidates with a bachelor's degree in an area other than environmental health need two years of work experience in the field in order to qualify for the REHS/RH exam. The NEHA and some states also offer sanitarian-in-training options to those applicants who meet education requirements but do not meet work experience requirements; this allows for preliminary credentialing while they gain the job experience necessary to obtain full registered sanitarian status.

4. Continue Education

The environmental sciences are continuously expanding our understanding of what is healthy and what is unsafe for humans. In order to maintain the REHS/RS credential, a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education units must be completed every two years. The NEHA offers online, video-based, and in-person continuing education courses. Other ways of earning continuing education credits include teaching classes, taking quizzes, publishing articles, or writing book reviews on subjects related to environmental health. Individual states may have different continuing education requirements.

Restaurant inspectors are a type of environmental health specialist, and as such, they must typically earn a bachelor's degree in a field like occupational safety, and then obtain official registration from the NEHA.

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