What Does a Food Inspector Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a large piece of meat with a small human next to it, wearing a mask, hat, and labcoat and holding a clipboard. Text reads:

The Balance / Bailer Mariner

If you want to be at the forefront of consumer protection and don't mind a little blood and guts then a career as a food inspector might be for you. Food inspectors are employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service. These people ensure that meat and poultry processed in private plants are safe and properly labeled. There are more than 7,500 food inspectors employed by the Department.

Food Inspector Duties & Responsibilities

This job requires candidates to be able to perform duties that include the following:

  • Examine food animals in privately-owned meat or poultry plants.
  • Perform their duties before and after slaughter, guaranteeing that the product is not contaminated.
  • Maintain required sanitation procedures.
  • Work to ensure the product is fit to eat and compliant with federal laws.
  • Travel occasionally for the job.

Food inspectors provide a critical function, which is essentially making sure that the nation's food supply is safe to eat. The food inspector job may lead interested individuals to pursue additional positions within the food safety field once they've gained experience. This includes jobs such as a food science technician.

Food Inspector Salary

Food inspectors are classified between the GS-5 and GS-7 pay grades on the U.S. Government's General Schedule (GS) of salaries and wages.

According to the fiscal year 2019 salary table posted on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website, a food inspector's annual salary ranges between $29,350 and $38,152 per year for GS-5 wages, and $36,356 and $47,264 for GS-7 wages. This range of pay is adjusted depending upon the job's geographic area, and the OPM schedule lists adjusted wage ranges for several localities.

Education, Training, & Certification

Applicants can meet the minimum qualifications for food inspector through experience or education but not both.

  • Education: To qualify for the lower pay grade, applicants must have a bachelor's degree and 12 semester hours of biology, mathematics, physical science, or agricultural science. Undergraduates within nine months of graduation may apply.
  • Experience: To enter the position at the lower of the two starting pay grades, applicants can qualify by experience if they have one year of relevant work experience obtained after age 15. Qualifying experience can include processing food in a slaughterhouse, butchering, working as a chef or cook with responsibilities for food safety, and employment as a veterinary technician. Applicants can qualify for the job's higher pay grade only through experience. "Applicants must have the equivalent of one year of full-time regulatory experience as a state, federal or military Food Inspector responsible for sanitation practices, laws and regulations governing the food industry and processed products, product judgment determination and the ability to communicate with food industry personnel," according to a USDA job posting.

Food Inspector Skills & Competencies

In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

  • Physical mobility: Must have a full physical range of motion including rapid or repetitive motion ability.
  • Good vision: Need to have good close and distance vision, with a correctable vision of 20/30 or better in one eye, and free of any chronic eye diseases.
  • Color identification: Individuals must be able to identify color shades with no significant impairment or color-blindness.
  • Ability to lift heavy items: Need to be able to lift, pull, carry, or push 30 or occasionally 50 pounds.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for food inspectors between 2016 and 2026 is 7%, driven by continued growth in food research, but offset by pests, weather issues, and water shortages. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.

Work Environment

Because the work of a food inspector must be done away from a government office, food inspectors have a high degree of flexibility in their scheduling. For those people who can't sit at a desk all day, a food inspector job offers frequent physical activity.

Work Schedule

The food inspector job requires a 40-hour workweek and occasional travel to other plants.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Review the requirements for this job on the USA Jobs website.

APPLY

The USDA posts a generic job announcement on USAJobs that is open for the entire federal fiscal year. Applicants indicate their geographic preferences in the application process. Before an applicant can be considered, they must complete the application process in USAJobs which includes a questionnaire.

When a position for a food inspector is vacated, the USDA searches for qualified candidates among those applicants whose geographic preference matches the position's location. The USDA then interviews a handful of candidates.

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