How Do I Become a Restaurant Inspector?

Research what it takes to become a restaurant inspector. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Restaurant Inspector?

A restaurant inspector is an occupational health and safety specialist who focuses on evaluating restaurants and other food service establishments. They typically work for a government agency and conduct investigations at restaurants to make sure they meet local, state and federal standards for cleanliness and workplace safety. For instance, they may observe kitchen staff to ensure that they are using equipment properly and implementing proper sanitation protocols. They may also test the food itself to certify that there are no contaminants. After an investigation is complete, restaurant inspectors report to the government health department. If there are areas of noncompliance, they may contribute to the development of a plan that address all health and safety concerns.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Key Responsibilities Compile and analyze data
Monitor progress after initial inspection
Evaluate compliance with health/safety regulations
Licensure Licensure required, specifications vary by state
Training Required Short-term on-the-job training
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 4% (for all occupational health and safety specialists)*
Average Salary (2015) $71,790 (for all occupational health and safety specialists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Training Will I Need To Become A Restaurant Inspector?

Requirements for becoming a restaurant inspector vary by state and include experience and academic training in public health and inspection procedures. An associate's degree program provides the groundwork for an expedient entry into the health inspection profession. Earning a bachelor's degree grants more in-depth knowledge of food quality control and potentially provides you with more profitable employment opportunities. If you want to conduct research or obtain more administrative employment, you might need to complete a master's degree program.

At all levels, you'll take courses in food and dairy quality control, physical sciences and hazardous substance control. Environmental health courses become progressively more comprehensive with each academic level, incorporating detailed analysis of public health law, disease prevention, risk evaluation and data collection principles.

Where Will I Work?

Your employer could be one of a number of state agencies. Many states employ restaurant inspectors through the Department of Health and Human Services. Others operate restaurant and food production inspections through the Department of Agriculture. A few relegate the oversight of the profession to county or city health services, though regulations are applied at the state level.

What Are The Typical Job Duties?

While you'll likely complete some administrative tasks, such as compiling reports and analyzing data from an office setting, the primary focus of your work consists of traveling to various restaurants in order to inspect their everyday working conditions. Once you've completed an initial inspection of a restaurant, you'll regularly return to monitor that venue's progress and continued compliance with sanitation and safety regulations. You'll usually work a full-time schedule with some overtime, depending on travel requirements and the time needed to thoroughly inspect each food service establishment.

As a restaurant inspector, you'll meticulously evaluate restaurants, cafeterias and other food service venues for proper food handling, sanitary habits of employees, pest infestations, food storage and any other health-related issues. Generally, you'll make unannounced visits to an establishment to ensure the environment and practices are commensurate with typical operations. Once you've gathered your findings, your report summary will typically need to be posted in a visible location so that customers can be made aware of the restaurant's overall health standing. For restaurants that don't meet required standards, you'll help the owners and management implement a necessary improvement program.

Do I Need To Be Licensed?

You will need to obtain licensure or certification from your state to provide inspection services. Each state regulates the inspection of restaurants differently, some issuing licensure at the state level and others by county or city. Requirements for certification varies, and some states mandate that you earn a bachelor's degree in a public health major in order to meet eligibility requirements. Others might allow specific training and some work experience to qualify. Check with your state Department of Health Services for specific criteria.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to get a government inspection job, you could also consider becoming a fire inspector. These professionals evaluate buildings to determine whether or not they are in compliance with government-issued fire codes. They also investigate fires after they happen in order to identify the causes and prevent future fires. A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for this job. Alternatively, if you would rather work within the food industry, you could get a job as a food services manager. Managers are in charge of making sure that all safety and sanitation protocols are implemented. They also oversee staff and manage the restaurant's budget. You only need a high diploma to work as a manager, but a postsecondary certificate or degree, as well as previous educational experience, can boost your job prospects.

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