Food Inspector  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotFood inspectors hunt down bacteriological and chemical contamination and enforce the accurate labeling of food products. They tour meat packing plants, slaughterhouses and wherever else food is prepared to make sure proper guidelines and health codes are being followed.

They also make sure that food labels correctly identify what is in the jar, bottle or can. It's important that all ingredients are properly listed so that people with allergies (to peanuts, for example) won't get sick if they eat that food.

dotAmerica's food inspection system is recognized as one of the world's best. The fact that we have one of the safest food supplies makes U.S. food products attractive to buyers from all parts of the globe.

"It's an interesting field," says food inspector Bruce D'Andrea. "Everyone eats food. Everyone has an interest in it. There's no one who doesn't."

dotInspectors have to enforce a wide range of laws, regulations, policies and procedures. Working individually or in teams, they check on companies that produce, handle, store or market food and advise them on the standards they must observe.

"There are certain industries where you have a lot of hands-on work -- the meat industry is an example," says D'Andrea. "But more and more inspectors are being trained to audit the activity of a private company."

dotAfter completing their inspection, inspectors discuss their observations with plant managers or officials and point out areas where corrective measures are needed.

"I document what they were doing right and wrong with written reports," explains Don Voeller, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspector in Portland, Oregon. "And I collect samples, if we want to make a federal case out of it."

dotSometimes food inspectors investigate public concerns, such as an E. coli outbreak or reports of turkeys that were improperly frozen. Safety inspectors then must question employees, vendors and other parties involved, to gather the evidence they need to identify the source of a problem.

D'Andrea says good inspectors often run into situations that aren't ideal. "It's difficult to talk to the manager of an organization and criticize it," he explains. "But there are laws and regulations that must be followed."

Inspector Teri Colbert remembers a confrontation between a senior inspector on her team and some company officials. "They started challenging her intelligence," says Colbert, who works in Bothell, Washington. "That wasn't pleasant."

dotInspectors work in a variety of environments -- everything from slaughterhouses to oyster shucking plants. "We even have people who fly to Alaska to inspect fish trawler processing plants in high seas," says Voeller.

Many inspectors work long and often irregular hours. There are few physical requirements needed for the job, but a strong stomach would probably come in handy. As long as their eyesight and sense of smell aren't impaired, a person with other physical difficulties should be able to do this job.

dotAn inspector's duties vary, depending on their employer. Some inspect a wide range of items: food, seafood, meats, feeds and pesticides or biological products.

Other inspectors specialize in one particular area -- fresh meat, for example.

dotIn the U.S., meat and poultry inspectors work for the Department of Agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has inspectors to check other kinds of food and enforce labeling guidelines.

The FDA employs food inspectors and investigators. Depending on which career you're interested in, you might need a college degree or university diploma.

Some food inspectors are veterinarians or biochemists.

At a Glance

Hunt down contamination and enforce the accurate labeling of food products

  • Food inspectors work in a variety of environments -- from slaughterhouses to candy stores
  • Some inspectors specialize in one particular area
  • You might need a degree or diploma in agriculture or food science