There are approximately 17,000 agricultural inspectors working in the United States. Projected job growth for these jobs over the next ten years is expected to be 13%. This is at the high end of the average projected job growth rate.
- Agricultural inspectors are hired by state and federal government to comply with the laws, rules, and regulations that have been put into place to guarantee the safety, health, and quality of agricultural products.
- Agricultural inspectors must evaluate food processing plants, such as meat processing plants, canning facilities, fruit and vegetable drying facilities, businesses that grind nuts and seeds into butters or spreads, cheese factories, mills, bakeries, and any other facility where foods are processed.
- Agricultural inspectors examine all areas of a facility carefully to make sure it meets quality standards set by the federal or state governments. Processing equipment must be cleaned frequently using solutions that will destroy contaminants.Workers must be properly clothed and have their hair contained. Floors must be clear of debris. Any evidence of insect or rodent presence must be addressed. Leaks in roofs, ceilings, or walls must be repaired, first so that contaminated or unclean water doesn’t drip into food products, and secondly, because such conditions invite serious molds that can sicken or even kill people.
- Agricultural inspectors visit food storage facilities to confirm the foods are properly stored, that temperatures are adequate to keep food from spoiling, and that the environment is clean, with no sign of insect or rodent invasion. Fisheries and logging work sites also fall under governmental jurisdiction.
Inspectors make repeat visits to a facility to track consistency.
- Samples of food items, meat, or livestock may be taken for laboratory testing. The inspector is checking for food-borne diseases, chemicals, and other contaminants that could sicken the population.
- Their work is not limited to slaughterhouses, food processing, and packaging facilities however. Inspectors also travel to ranches and farms to interview farmers about medical treatments given to dairy or meat animals and to note the farmer’s feeding practices.
- In addition, they might inspect shipping facilities to confirm handling procedures follow regulations.
Agricultural inspectors have other duties, as well. When they find a facility or plant in violation, they must document their findings in a report. The report should clearly state what is recommended to resolve the problem. Inspectors must speak with farmers, ranchers, fishery supervisors, or food processors about the findings, and explain what must be done. Finally, in the event a site contains serious violations, the inspector can, and should, close down production until the issues are resolved.
Agricultural inspectors experience a range of working conditions. Slaughterhouses and meat packing plants can be extremely cold. Because blood and animal residue must be washed off the floors constantly, cement floors can be dangerously slippery. Some plants are well lit, highly mechanized, clean, and orderly. Other facilities might be crowded, noisy, or otherwise unpleasant. Walking distances and standing for extended periods can result in muscular or skeletal pain. Inspectors may have to lift or carry moderately heavy packages, and many use extremely sharp knives in their work. Occasionally, inspectors may have to deal with confrontational or even threatening individuals.
To work as an agricultural inspector, most positions require previous experience in food processing or other related fields. Alternatively, an inspector may have completed college classes in biology, agricultural science, or other related course work.
Nearly all agricultural inspectors work for the federal or state governments. Over the next decade, these governing bodies will add new positions only if pending legislation is passed that ensures more careful monitoring of the growing and harvesting of fruits and vegetables, and the raising of animals for meat, eggs, dairy, cheese, and other food products. However, it is anticipated that a significant number of agricultural inspectors will retire in the upcoming decade, so jobs will be available.
Among the qualities employers seek in agricultural inspectors is attention to detail, clear communication skills, and a strong sense of responsibility. Opportunities for advancement are generally for a supervisory position.
The median annual salary for agricultural inspectors is approximately $42,000. Benefits such as health and life insurance, retirement, and vacation add additional value.