Meat inspectors need strong stomachs to accurately assess and evaluate the living conditions of poultry and livestock, as well as the process of slaughtering and storing animals used for food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there were more than 7,500 inspectors nationwide as of July 2014. Performing inspections requires a strong eye for detail, physical endurance and an ability to work in a range of conditions, from sub-freezing temperatures to humid days that may exceed 90 degrees.
Education and Experience
The USDA requires its food inspectors to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree or one year of related experience in the food industry. Meat inspectors must be able to understand, apply and explain control methods and sanitation requirements in various environments. They must also be in good physical condition because the USDA notes that inspecting requires constant physical activity, including standing, bending, kneeling, walking, climbing and lifting between 30 and 50 pounds. Inspectors must have accurate color vision and the ability to detect odors to identify abnormalities in products.
Working and Advancing
Meat inspectors often start their careers as either consumer safety or import inspectors. Consumer safety inspectors are typically employed by meat, poultry or egg processing plants that are privately owned. They perform daily evaluations of one or more plants for their employer, gaining ideal experience for USDA meat inspection positions. Import inspectors are usually government employees who work at the nation's ports to assess any products received from overseas. They may be in charge of all food imports, rather than only meat.
Testing and Training
All vacancies at the USDA are posted through the USAJobs website. Candidates can apply via the vacancy announcement, which is followed by a questionnaire that assesses applicants' suitability for the position. Qualified candidates are called in for a pre-employment physical screening and a written test. Once accepted, meat inspectors must complete several USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service training sessions, such as Pandemic and Annual Civil Rights Training, the Food Inspectors Course and routine on-the-job training.
Tough Job Competition
It is important to build a strong resume and develop sharp interviewing skills if you want to land a job as a USDA meat inspector because the number of opportunities will be limited in coming years. O*Net OnLine, which recognizes meat inspectors under the broader job category of agricultural inspectors, expects there to be little or no change in employment opportunities between 2012 and 2022. The Washington Post reported in September 2013 that the USDA was working on a meat inspection program that would cut the number of its safety inspectors at each plant in half.