How to Become a Food Health Inspector

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jun 28, 2018

Jun 28, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

The first step to loving your job is figuring out what you love. The second step is finding out what you need to do to get that job.

The reality of our economy in 2018 is that most of the jobs with stability and advancement opportunities require some education and/or training, and the position of food health inspector is no exception.

If you want to spend your career protecting your neighbors from unsafe food, here are the steps to follow:

Step #1: Think About Various Types of Food Health Inspectors

In many states and cities, each health inspector focuses on a different area of the food service industry. The primary categories include:

  • Restaurant health inspectors
  • Consumer safety inspectors (who evaluate plants or processing centers that handle food)
  • Import health inspectors (who work at ports where food is being imported from other countries)

If you already know which area you want to specialize in, that's a great jumpstart. If not, don't stress. You should be able to gain experience in these environments during your education and/or internship.

Step #2: Find Out Your State and Local Requirements

Food inspection is regulated differently in every state, and many cities have their own inspection teams as well. This means every state has different requirements. Many have a specific food safety license, food inspector's license, or another type of credential.

Each state also has different standards that are required in order to get a license or certificate. In some states, you need a bachelor's degree, while you don't in others. That's why this is one of the first steps you need to complete on your career path.

You should be able to find out your state's food inspection requirements from your state department of health.

It's common for states to require a bachelor's degree for health inspectors. Your degree should be in occupational health and safety, public health, environmental science, or a related field. This information should also be available from your state health department.

Many of these degrees will include a mandated internship. While this feels like one more hurdle in your career, it's an unparalleled way to find out which types of environments you enjoy most. It also gives you job experience to put on your resume.

Step 3: Consider Adding Non-Required Credentials

If you already have the minimum requirements for your state and/or city but you aren't getting the jobs you want, it may be time to upgrade your resume. There are certain certifications and experiences that are resume buzzwords, getting you to the top of any resume pile.

Pro tip: try talking to the hiring managers who passed you by and asking them what other certifications or credentials could make you more marketable.

National Environmental Health Association Certification

No matter where you live, a certification from the National Environmental Health Association (or NEHA) gives you added credibility. The NEHA offers credentials in a variety of specialties and aspects of food inspection. Keep in mind, though, that many of these credentials require a bachelor's degree.

ServSafe Certification

ServSafe is another widely recognized food safety organization that can set you apart from other job candidates. They offer certification courses for several areas of the food service industry. ServSafe certifications demonstrate your knowledge of the food safety regulations and how your inspectees are trained.

Relevant Work Experience

Yes, the catch-22 that has plagued 20 somethings for decades: you need experience to get a job but you need a job to get experience. If you want to be a foods safety inspector, however, it's rather easy to get your foot in the door.

One route is to get a job in the type of business you want to inspect. For instance, get an entry-level job at a meat packing plant if you want to inspect these types of facilities, or work at a restaurant if you want to inspect restaurants. This gives you insight into your future inspectees.

Another avenue is to get an entry-level job within your local health department, especially in the food safety inspection unit. These departments often hire people to answer phones, enter data, and perform other office tasks.

A note about work experience: if your state requires a bachelor's degree, it's ideal to get these types of jobs on a part-time basis while you're in school. Two birds, one stone.

Master's Degree

This one is a bit of a gamble. While a master's degree in safety and occupational health applied sciences (or similar major) makes you more qualified, some hiring managers think it makes you overqualified. It's best to look at the job market in your area to find out if this would help before you jump in.

Learn More About How to Help Your Inspectees

The more inside knowledge you can have, the better. For instance, think about or research some organizational systems that can help restaurants know when it's time to throw out a food item.

It's also a good idea to learn about specialized safety audit software. These systems are designed to help professionals in the food service industry stay on top of health requirements, and they're great options to recommend to your inspectees. If you're not familiar with them, you can learn more here.

This type of added knowledge will help in your interviews and they can also stand out on your resume. It shows that you take the extra step to do your job well.

Becoming a Food Health Inspector

If your goal is to help to protect the public by keeping the food service industry honest and cautious, you've chosen a noble profession. It's an important job, so it's no surprise that many states have hefty requirements.

If food safety is your passion, hopefully, you'll enjoy the journey of building your knowledge and gaining experience in the industry.

It's also important to remember that you shouldn't stop learning after you land a job. Food safety inspectors usually have promotion and advancement opportunities, and the tips above will also help you stand out when you vie for these positions.

For more tips about making the most out of your career, visit our career enhancement blog.