Become a Food Safety Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a food safety specialist. Explore the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in food safety.

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Should I Become a Food Safety Specialist?

Food safety specialists, otherwise known as food inspectors or food science technicians, help protect the public from food borne illnesses by monitoring food safety and quality, in addition to processing procedures and equipment. These professionals might split their time between offices, laboratories, and food processing facilities. They must be up-to-date on government and industry regulations for the food industry and must be comfortable with issuing citations. Food safety specialists tend to work full-time, and overtime hours are possible. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $40,860 per year is the median salary for all agricultural and food science technicians as of May 2018.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field(s) Any science, but food science preferred
Certification Voluntary food safety certification available
Experience 2+ years
Key Skills Observation, problem solving, critical thinking; office software, database software, scientific software; food safety equipment and protocols
Median Salary (2018)* $40,860 (for all agricultural and food science technicians)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career openings found in October of 2012, National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, O Net OnLine

Prepare in High School

Aspiring food safety specialists can start preparing in high school by taking courses that emphasize life science, math, chemistry, physics, computer science, and communications. Another way to train for a job in this field is to work in food service or volunteer with public health or environmental organizations.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is typically required for a career in the food safety industry. Food safety specialists generally major in a scientific discipline, such as environmental health, biology, or chemistry. Some bachelor's degree programs specifically focus on food science or offer a concentration in food safety. These programs include extensive coursework in chemistry and biology, in addition to classes in food production and handling, sanitation, nutrition, and quality assurance.

Consider Professional Certification

The National Environmental Health Association offers a Certified Professional - Food Safety credential upon successful completion of an exam. Eligibility is based either on education or experience. For example, candidates can qualify for NEHA certification with a bachelor's degree in food science or environmental health, or they can have a degree from a different field and at least two years of food safety work experience. Candidates with high school diplomas or associate's degrees must have 4-5 years of experience in the field plus related professional credentials, such as ServSafe or professional food manager certifications.

Opportunities for Career Advancement

Many universities offer master's degrees and graduate certificates in food safety or food science. While a graduate education isn't required to work in the field, it can lead to advanced positions in food safety or careers in research and development. Coursework in such programs covers Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point concepts, food borne pathogens, and food laws in addition to food microbiology and biotechnology. Some master's degree programs offer both thesis and non-thesis options. Many of these programs are offered online.

Aspiring food safety specialists should prepare as early as high school, earn a relevant bachelor's degree, consider professional certification, and look for career advancement opportunities.

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