Food safety is important in the United States and worldwide, and federal and state laws require food producers and food processors to meet health and safety standards. These laws also mandate significant fines for companies that violate food quality regulations, especially repeat offenders. That said, the profit motive combined with the sheer size of the agriculture, livestock and food processing industries means that regular inspection of food producers and importers is the only way to minimize food-related public safety issues.
Food Industry Quality Control Positions
Quality control specialists work in a wide range of positions in the food production industry, from vets inspecting livestock before slaughter to lab techs testing food ingredient or food product samples. Large food processing companies often have food safety compliance departments whose staff members work with government inspectors.
Federal Food Inspectors
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture employs more than 7,500 food inspectors at food processing plants, ports and border crossings around the country. Consumer safety inspectors typically work in meat, poultry and egg processing plants. Their job is to make sure that the facility is operating within federal guidelines and is following its written health and safety plans. Import inspectors work in ports and national border crossings. They inspect food products imported from other countries to make sure they are safe for consumption.
Agricultural inspectors make sure that farmers and agricultural commodity companies are meeting the standards governing the health, safety, and quality of agricultural commodities. They are also responsible for inspecting agricultural processing equipment and facilities, as well as logging and fishing operations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the almost 14,000 agricultural inspectors employed in the United States in 2011 worked for the federal government, about 5,200 worked for state and local governments, and around 1,300 worked in private industry.
State and Local Food Inspectors
State, city and county health departments all hire food inspectors. Although responsibilities vary, state inspectors typically focus on inspecting food production and processing facilities, while local food inspectors -- often called health inspectors -- focus on inspecting local restaurants and grocery stores. Health inspectors in some communities inspect hotels, swimming pools and other public facilities.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: OES -- 45-2011 Agricultural Inspectors
- O-Net Online: Summary Report for: 45-2011.00 - Agricultural Inspectors
- U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Food Inspection and Safety Service: Careers -- Food Inspector & Consumer Safety Inspector Positions
- New York State Department of Health: Public Health Inspector
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