An agricultural inspector could...
|Inspect a peanut processing plant to check for salmonella bacteria contamination.||Review a farm's feeding practices to ensure no meat is getting into the feed of chickens or cows.|
|Analyze a shipment of peaches to check its levels of pesticides.||Test samples at meat-packing plants for the presence of diseases.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Who works to protect the public health from food-borne illnesses? Agricultural inspectors. Everyone needs to eat, and agricultural inspectors work to ensure the quality and safety of the food supply to determine if they are in compliance. They also inspect farms, businesses, and food-processing plants to determine if they are in compliance with government food regulations and laws.|
|Key Requirements||Detail-oriented, meticulous, able to deliver criticism in a constructive way, professional in the face of difficult people, excellent communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Post high school credential|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, English; if available, biomedical science, foreign languages|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)|
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Education and Training
Aspiring inspectors should take college courses in the areas of biology or agricultural science. Most positions require a four-year bachelor's degree, but some do not. Candidates should also search out relevant work experience, such as working on a farm or in a meat-processing plant. Moreover, knowledge of laws and regulations in the field is imperative; on-the-job training will help to familiarize inspectors with inspection procedures.
Nature of the Work
Agricultural inspectors make sure that businesses comply with federal and state laws and regulations that govern the health, quality, and safety of meat, poultry, egg products, fruits, and vegetables. They also inspect food- and meat-processing plants to ensure that the facilities meet quality standards. They strive to protect public health and well-being by protecting the public from foodborne illness. Most agricultural inspectors work for federal and state governments, and are very knowledgeable about regulations and standards in the area in which they work.
In order to determine whether a business is meeting quality and safety standards, an inspector must make numerous visits and make thorough inspections of the product and its surroundings. For example, an inspector might take samples of animals at a meat-processing plant to test for diseases. They might also inspect livestock on the farm to review feeding practices and medical treatments. They might also analyze shipments of grain or vegetables for quality or levels of chemicals.
One of the main responsibilities of an agricultural inspector is the health and quality of livestock. With recent concerns about mad-cow disease, it is imperative that qualified inspectors—along with veterinarians—inspect the livestock population in order to protect people from any kind of bacteria or disease that can be passed from contaminated meat to humans.
Agricultural inspectors work long and irregular hours, spending much of their time in food- or meat-processing plants. Others might travel frequently to farms or ports, inspecting cargo on boats or sitting on docks.
Because the job involves finding problems or violations, inspectors might have to deal with antagonistic individuals and uncomfortable situations. The job can be demanding and very stressful; in essence, an inspector's work can have important financial and public health consequences.
On the Job
- Inspect agricultural commodities and related operations, as well as fish and logging operations for compliance with laws and regulations governing health, quality, and safety.
- Inspect and test horticultural products or livestock to detect harmful diseases, chemical residues, and infestations, and to determine the quality of products or animals.
- Verify that transportation and handling procedures meet regulatory requirements.
- Collect samples from animals, plants, or products, and route them to laboratories for microbiological assessment, ingredient verification, and other testing.
- Interpret and enforce government acts and regulations and explain required standards to agricultural workers.
- Write reports of findings and recommendations, and advise farmers, growers, or processors of corrective action to be taken.
- Inspect the cleanliness and practices of establishment employees.
- Monitor the operations and sanitary conditions of slaughtering and meat processing plants.
- Inspect food products and processing procedures to determine whether products are safe to eat.
- Take emergency actions such as closing production facilities if product safety is compromised.
- Monitor the grading performed by company employees in order to verify conformance to standards.
- Label and seal graded products, and issue official grading certificates.
- Inspect livestock to determine effectiveness of medication and feeding programs.
- Set standards for the production of meat and poultry products, and for food ingredients, additives, and compounds used to prepare and package products.
- Direct and monitor the quarantine and treatment or destruction of plants and plant products.
- Inquire about pesticides or chemicals to which animals may have been exposed.
- Set labeling standards and approve labels for meat and poultry products.
- Examine, weigh, and measure commodities such as poultry, eggs, meat, and seafood in order to certify qualities, grades, and weights.
- Compare product recipes with government-approved formulas or recipes in order to determine acceptability.
- Review and monitor foreign product inspection systems in countries of origin to ensure equivalence to the U.S. system.
- Provide consultative services in areas such as equipment and product evaluation, plant construction and layout, and food safety systems.
- Advise farmers and growers of development programs or new equipment and techniques to aid in quality production.
- Testify in legal proceedings.
Companies That Hire Agricultural Inspectors
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Do you have a specific question about a career as an Agricultural Inspector that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- Association of Fruit and Vegetable Inspection and Standardization Agencies: www.afvisa.org
- Independent Organic Inspectors Association: https://www.ioia.net/
- BLS. (2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2019 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved April 1, 2021.
- O*Net Online. (2019). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved April 1, 2021.
- Net Industries. (2009). Agricultural Inspector Job Description, Career as an Agricultural Inspector, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job. Retrieved October 15, 2009.
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture, YouTube. (2009, February 4). Food Safety: The MDA on the Farm. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture, YouTube. (2009, July 9). Food Safety: The MDA and Ice Cream. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture, YouTube. (2009, February 19). Food Safety: The MDA and Milk. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Minnesota Department of Agriculture, YouTube. (2014, April 9). Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Food Inspection Program. Retrieved April 24, 2019.
- Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. (2009, June 7). Commissioner Blackham was an inspector for-a-day during Employee Appreciation Week. Retrieved April 29, 2014.
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