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Begin a Career As a Food Inspector: Requirements, Duties and Outlook

Food inspectors start off as trainees after completing coursework in food technology and environmental health or accruing work experience in safety and sanitation inspection. Most certification programs require a bachelor's degree and introduce food safety practices and concerns. Many food inspectors are employed through government agencies.

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Requirements for a Food Inspector

Aspiring food inspectors may qualify for state-level food inspector trainee programs through a combination of education and work experience that incorporates sanitation and scientific techniques. For example, the New York State Department of Civil Service requires trainee candidates to have completed coursework in food technology, chemistry, epidemiology, biology and environmental health, or to have full-time work experience in positions such as a meat inspector, quality control technician or environmental health technician.

Food inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must have a bachelor's degree or a year of food industry experience that includes understanding and complying with food safety standards. A written test is also required for the USDA inspector positions.

Travel to inspection sites necessitates a valid driver's license. Many states require that the applicant pass an examination and become certified. Becoming certified through a nationally recognized organization, such as the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), requires a bachelor's degree in an applied food or environmental science. Certification programs through the NEHA introduce proper food handling practices, elements of food safety management, detection and prevention of food borne disease, food sustainability and inspection processes (www.nehacert.org).

Duties for a Food Inspector

Food inspectors monitor food distributors, processors and manufacturers for safety and sanitation violations that could lead to food being contamination with adulterants or bacteria. They may inspect live animals and carcasses at a slaughterhouse or examine food imports at a port for mislabeling or other food safety issues. Inspectors report violations to the appropriate regulatory agency and are responsible for ensuring that foods are suitable for human consumption.

Outlook for a Food Inspector

A food inspector has the potential to become employed through many associations and government organizations, such as the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as state and county government agencies. These government positions are mostly impervious to economic upsets and offer good job security. The USDA reported that it employs over 7,500 food and consumer safety inspectors nationwide (www.fsis.usda.gov).

In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of agricultural and food science technicians of $34,790. This group included those who inspect prepared foods as well as agricultural crops. Outlook for the career is projected to be slower than average, with only 3% growth from 2012-2022.

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