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Become a Meat Inspector: Requirements and Information

Find out how to become a meat inspector. Research the job description and education requirements, and find out how to start a career as a meat inspector.

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Do I Want to Be 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). 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.

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. When not completing inspections, meat inspectors work in an office setting, often writing reports and making recommendations.

Job Requirements

Individuals interested in becoming meat inspectors might seek a bachelor's degree in agricultural sciences or a related major, such as another branch of the physical sciences. They also might pursue training programs offered by universities in partnership with the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which also monitors state inspection programs. Related work experience also might qualify individuals to work as meat inspectors. The following table outlines common requirements to become a meat inspector, according to the USDA.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree or one year of job-related experience
Degree Field Biological, mathematical, physical or agricultural sciences
Licensure and/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
Computer Skills No prerequisites
Technical Skills Depend on type of experience
Additional Requirements Complete an assessment questionnaire, be a U.S. citizen, pass a background investigation

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the USDA, 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 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.

Success Tip

  • Pursue USDA student programs. College veterinary 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 a FSIS officer. A minimum 6-week commitment is needed.

Step 2: Seek Job Experience

Having the appropriate job-related skills may allow individuals without a degree to become meat inspectors. According to food inspector job postings on USAjobs.gov in November 2012, the USDA sought 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 such as 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

The application process begins with submitting a detailed resume and completing an online application package at USAjobs.gov. You'll then need to complete an online questionnaire and provide any other documents requested, such as college transcripts. You'll be notified of your hiring eligibility and may be contacted for further instructions.

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. Applicants may select up to five geographic regions in which they want to work.

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