Food Inspector

Current employment outlooks identify employment in the public sector as one of the most stable and quickly growing places to find a job.  Careers in public health can offer a variety of specialties to go into, and are also a means to give great contribution to the community.  While some public health jobs are in healthcare and the medical field, others are concerned with the safety aspect of wellness.  This can appeal to a variety of interests from agriculture to ecology.

Public health department positions have many openings that meet the needs of the community while offering steady work that has great job advancement potential.  A career in food inspection ensures the safety of the community and also supports local businesses by ensuring their ability to comply with local health and safety codes.  If you are interested in a job in public health that allows you to travel and interact with people, then employment as a food inspector could be ideal. 

What Is A Food Inspector?

Food inspectors are responsible for enforcing health codes in establishments that make and serve consumables.  This can include not only restaurants, but also retailers such as supermarkets, and manufacturing plants such as meat packing factories and dairy processing plants.  With an understanding of the legal terms of food safety and public welfare as well as the scientific basis for safe handling, you would ensure that storage, handling, and processing procedures provide food that is appropriate for public consumption.

As a food inspector you would be in charge of inspecting facilities, but also evaluating employee performance for compliance.  Your job would involve identifying possible sources of contamination and evaluating practices that may put the public in danger.  You would also be engaged in providing education and solutions should you witness any infractions.

Food inspectors handle a number of tasks in their daily work. The following would all be included in expectations:

  •   Inspect commercial food products to ensure that they are free from contaminants.
  •   Ensure proper labeling on consumables that are sold to the public.
  •   Observe the processes of handling, preparing, and storing food to make sure that it is safe and within legal codes.
  •   Inspect equipment and environments for possible contaminants or health hazards.
  •   Identify unsafe practices and educate manufacturers and distributors on current health and legal concerns.
  •   Inspect animals that are in line for slaughter to make sure that they are free from disease.
  •   Record and report findings back to overseeing agencies, and document the proposed course of action.

Characteristics

As a food inspector, you will need both a strong background in science and the ability to interact well with many different individuals within the food processing and serving profession.  The following talents are important when performing your duties:

  •   Good observation:  As a food inspector you will be evaluating facilities, practices, and equipment.  You need to be able to spot problem areas quickly and be able to identify why this poses a threat.
  •   Communication:  Much of this job also involves gathering information from employees at the places you are inspecting.  You will need to be able to establish an easy rapport with many different individuals in order to do so
  •   Diplomacy:  You may need to impart unpleasant news to some of the facilities that you inspect.  This could include temporary closures or revocation of licensing, and you want to ensure that you are able to do this in a manner that is both firm and sympathetic. 
  •   Record keeping:  You will need to keep track of your observations and take copious notes for reports and for your own data base.  These must be concise, accurate, and clear. 
  •   Strong constitution:  Parts of your job will take you to slaughterhouses in order to evaluate the processing protocols.  Even in restaurants you may be required to examine grease traps and waste containment, so having a strong stomach is an important qualification

Nature Of The Work

Food inspectors work in conjunction with the local department of public health as well as with the US Department of Food and Agriculture.  Any findings that you document on the job would be submitted as reports to both these agencies, and can affect the running and licensure of a number of establishments.  Your job would primarily be comprised of field work, with some office work for writing reports and documenting observations from the field.

This job will take you to restaurants, retailers, and processing plants, to evaluate compliance with health codes in the environment and in the handling practices.  You may also be required to evaluate transport of food stuffs, and this can include examining vehicles that carry food from one business to another, and evaluating the conduct of the delivery personnel.  As a career, the position of food inspector allows you a constantly changing workplace, and the ability to provide education that contributes to the public welfare.

Education And Training

The position of food inspector can have different educational requirements depending upon whether you are applying for a local, state, or federal position.  Many public health departments will only require a two year Associate’s degree in either animal sciences or biology.  Some positions may require that you hold a Bachelor’s degree in these fields, or related subjects such as microbiology or agricultural sciences. 

Along with your degree, you will also need experience in food handling.  This can be offered through on the job training, or if you are finishing your studies, you may still apply for a position as long as you are within nine months of graduation and thus train that way.  You will also require certifications through the National Environmental Health Association to show that you are knowledgeable in food handling protocols and legal specifications of food safety.

The position of food inspector is a slightly slower growing field in public health, but the need for qualified inspectors is increasing as the food industry expands.  Within the next ten years there is an expected 7% increase in job demand, but the position is highly stable and can allow you to advance from a local to a federal level.  The median income for food inspectors is around $34,000 per year, but can range from $25,000 at an entry level, to $50,000 for federal positions.   


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