Food 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.
America'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."
Inspectors 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."
After completing their inspection, inspectors discuss their observations
with plant managers or officials and point out areas where corrective measures
"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."
Sometimes 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."
Inspectors 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.
An inspector's duties vary, depending on their employer. Some inspect a
wide range of items: food, seafood, meats, feeds and pesticides or biological
Other inspectors specialize in one particular area -- fresh meat, for example.
In 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.