Career Development

How To Become a USDA Food Inspector: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn about the steps important to pursuing a career as a USDA food inspector, including education, skills, salary and more.

A food inspector is responsible for ensuring that the food we eat is safe. They inspect food production facilities and products to make sure they meet safety standards. If you are interested in a career in food safety, learning more about what food inspectors do and how to become one can help you determine if this is the right career path for you. In this article, we explain the primary responsibilities of food inspectors and outline the steps to become a professional food inspector.

What Does a USDA Food Inspector Do?

A USDA food inspector is a federal employee who ensures that the meat, poultry and egg products produced in the United States are safe for human consumption. Food inspectors work in slaughterhouses, packing plants and other food-processing facilities to inspect animals and ensure that they meet all safety and health regulations.

The duties of a USDA food inspector include:

  • Inspecting live animals before they are slaughtered
  • Monitoring the slaughtering process to ensure that it is done humanely and in accordance with regulations
  • Checking carcasses for signs of disease or contamination
  • Sampling meat and poultry products for testing
  • Keeping records of inspections and test results
  • Enforcing food safety regulations
  • Investigating complaints about food-safety violations
  • Educating plant employees on food safety procedures

USDA Food Inspector Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for a USDA food inspector is $51,441.29 per year. However, salaries may vary depending on experience, education, and location.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for food inspectors will be slower than average over the next decade. The primary reason for this is that many food inspection tasks are now automated. For example, x-ray machines can detect foreign objects in food, so there is less need for human inspectors.

How to Become a USDA Food Inspector

Here are several steps you should take to become a USDA food inspector.

1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent

You must have a high school diploma or equivalent to become a USDA food inspector. Some colleges and universities offer associate degrees in food science that can help you prepare for this career, but it is not required. If you are interested in becoming a food inspector, consider taking courses in biology, chemistry and math in high school to help you succeed in college.

On the job training will be provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which may take up to six months to complete. You will need to pass an exam at the end of your training period.

2. Complete on-the-job training provided by the USDA

After graduating from high school, you can apply to become a USDA food inspector. On the job, you will receive training from experienced inspectors and supervisors who teach you about inspection techniques, regulations and how to use equipment such as thermometers and scales. You may also learn about specific types of foods and where they are grown or sold.

The training period for new USDA food inspectors is six months long. During this time, you will work under close supervision to ensure that you understand all aspects of your role.

3. Pass a written examination

Once you have completed the training program, you are eligible to take a written examination that tests your knowledge of food safety regulations. The exam is offered several times per year at locations throughout the country. You must pass this test with a score of 80 or higher to earn a Food Inspector’s Certificate.

The written exam covers topics such as inspection techniques and procedures, sanitation and health standards for food facilities, pest control and identification of unsafe foods.

4. Obtain a Food Inspector’s Certificate

Once you have completed the on-the-job training, passed the written exam and met the physical requirements, you can obtain your Food Inspector’s Certificate. This requires passing a practical examination that includes inspecting food establishments to ensure they are complying with federal regulations. You must renew this certificate every five years by completing 20 hours of continuing education courses in areas such as food science or inspection techniques.

5. Meet physical requirements, such as being able to lift 50 pounds

Food inspectors must be able to perform the duties of the job, which may require lifting and moving 50 pounds or more. Inspectors need to be in good physical condition so they can work long hours on their feet inspecting food facilities.

You will also need to pass a medical exam that includes vision and hearing tests. You will have to renew your Food Inspector’s Certificate every five years by meeting all requirements again.

6. Be able to work in hot and cold temperatures

Food inspectors may be required to work in both hot and cold temperatures. Inspectors may need to visit farms or other facilities that are not climate-controlled, such as warehouses. They also may need to visit food processing plants where the temperature is high due to machinery. On the other hand, they may need to inspect grocery stores during winter months when the heat is on.

7. Have good vision and hearing

You must have 20/20 vision with or without corrective lenses and be able to hear sounds at normal speaking levels from a distance of 25 feet. You will need to pass an annual physical exam that includes a medical history review, blood test and urinalysis. The USDA may also conduct random drug tests on food inspectors. If you are using any prescription medications, you need to let the employer know so they can determine if it will interfere with your job performance.


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