How to Become a Restaurant Inspector: Career Guide

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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Do I Want to Be a Restaurant Inspector?

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. Restaurant inspectors also have to deal with the stress of deciding whether an eating establishment can continue to do business.

Job Requirements

Requirements for becoming a restaurant inspector, which are determined by each state, generally involve a bachelor's degree and the passing of a credentialing exam to become a registered sanitarian. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become a restaurant inspector, listed from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Occupational health, safety or a comparable discipline
Certification Certification is voluntary, but encouraged
Experience Work experience or internships are vital
Key Skills Communication, detail-oriented, problem-solving
Technical Skills Knowledge of advanced testing equipment

Step 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 state's requirements.

Success Tip:

  • Undertake an internship. Universities may offer environmental health majors opportunities to undertake an internship in the field, although it 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.

Step 2: Check State-Required Work Experience Requirements

Aspiring environmental health specialists are encouraged to check their state's 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 private industry.

Step 3: Obtain Official Registration Status

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. NEHA and some states also offer a sanitarian-in-training option 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.

Success Tip:

  • 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. 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.
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