Government Job Profile: Food Inspector

Where's the beef? Right in front of you!

brown eggs on conveyor belt
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If you want to be on 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 US Department of Agriculture's 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.

The Selection Process

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, he or she 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.

The Education and Experience You'll Need

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

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.

To qualify for the lower pay grade by experience 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.

Applicants can qualify for the 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 2011 job posting.

What You'll Do

The mission of the Food Safety and Inspection service is "to protect public health by ensuring that the commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products moving in interstate commerce or exported to other countries is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged." Food inspectors are the people who execute this mission on a day-to-day basis.

This job is not for those who have a weak stomach. Food inspectors go into slaughterhouses and food processing plants to inspect the animals before and after slaughter to make sure that the meat adheres to federal safety standards. Entry level inspectors work in slaughterhouses. After putting time in there, employees can get promoted to inspecting more complex operations such as plants that produce frozen dinners.

When inspecting poultry plants and large slaughterhouses, inspectors will work in teams to inspect the different aspects of the operation. One inspector can handle small slaughterhouses that do not use assembly lines.

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 stand to sit at a desk all day, a food inspector job offers frequent physical activity.

What You'll Earn

Food inspectors are classified between the GS-5 and GS-7 pay grades on the US government's general schedule. According to the fiscal year 2016 job posting, a food inspector's salary is between $31,944 and $51,437 per year.