Spotlight on Food Safety Specialists

If you’ve watched reality shows like Kitchen Nightmares or Bar Rescue, you may have seen some nasty food safety violations. Or, maybe you’ve seen one of many viral videos of rats in kitchens and raw food stored next to cooked food. Cross contamination, undercooking food and poor hygiene practices can make a person violently ill, so fortunately all of these issues are easy to prevent. In the United States, 47.8 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses every year because of laziness and unsatisfactory health standards. There is one health care profession guarding the public from terrible food: the food safety specialist.

Food safety specialists ensure the quality and safety of our food supply by inspecting different locations, including processing plants, farms, restaurants and caterers. At plants and industrial facilities, the specialist helps prevent and inspect if and when certain food products are tainted with germs and bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and norovirus. Chances are that you have heard of all three of these diseases, whether it’s because there has been a food recall, an outbreak or someone you know has become ill. All of these illnesses have the possibility to kill someone, especially in the case of small children and the elderly. It is up to the food safety specialist to record and report anything that could cause harm to the community.

As you may have realized, this is not a job for a person who might become queasy. As a food safety specialist, you could enter into a place that is hot, cold, humid, noisy or smelly. The sights and smells you encounter could be from unsanitary conditions, rendered meat or rotten, moldy food. If you’re not easily disgusted and you care about keeping communities protected, then this may be the job for you!

Experience in the food preparation industry is a major benefit in this field. It can help you qualify for an entry-level position as a food inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In order to qualify, USDA food safety specialists must pass a written test, along with obtaining either a bachelor’s degree or having job-related experience. The degree must be science-specific and the experience must involve ensuring compliance with proper food safety standards. There is the option to earn a master’s of public health with a focus on epidemiology, food safety, infectious diseases, environmental toxicology or health risk assessment. Because food safety specialists are considered a part of the environmental health career path, a professional can earn certification from the National Environmental Health Association.

Food safety specialists help to keep the world safer and prevent the hazards of foodborne illness. They take on the difficult task of enforcing proper methods of production and farming, as well as making sure that imported foods meet the standards of the USDA. The more we rely on others to provide our food, the more we need food safety specialists to ensure that we can safely consume the products we keep in our pantry and order at our restaurants.

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