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Public Health Inspector


Ever had food poisoning? It's terrible. And more common than you think. Some health inspectors argue that there is no such thing as the classic 24-hour flu. Chances are you don't have the flu, you're suffering from food poisoning.

Food poisoning is caused by food that has been allowed to grow bacteria, been invaded by insects, or spoiled in some way. A slaughterhouse can contaminate meat in the shipping process, a restaurant can leave the milk out, a well can grow mold, a skating rink can become overrun with rodents. Public health inspectors try and prevent these things from occurring. They educate new business owners and company administrators about health and safety, and help them establish a plan of action to ensure their business doesn't start dishing out poison along with the pasta.

Public health inspectors also complete follow-up visits to businesses and restaurants, to ensure that the plans are being followed. Sometimes they act on complaints, and investigate offices, restaurants, and other facilities for trouble. They will make recommendations if they find faults, and if the changes aren't made by the next visit, fines or even closures, will be enforced.

Public health inspectors need to be tough. Because a stomach ache isn't all that you risk; you could die. Poorly maintained public wells, leaking septic systems, and contaminated pools can kill you, just as a dirty glass can affect you fatally. While it is rare, the odd server who forgets to wash their hands after the bathroom may be handing you more than just water in that tumbler.

That said, public health inspectors do a lot to protect us from such fates. Using advanced testing equipment they take samples of well, ocean, and lake water as well as food to check for dangerous substances. They use equipment to investigate septic systems and solid waste sites. Some even look into noise pollution complaints. Often, they will host public information sessions and speak to the media about health precautions.

They do everything in their power to save lives, educate the public, and keep us safe from food poisoning, air pollution, and water contamination. So the next time you run into a public health inspector, why don't you offer to take her out to dinner? Although, you'd better let her choose the restaurant...
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Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University

Located in the heart of Washington, D.C. the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University is dedicated to advancing the health of local, national and global communities.

You need to have a Bachelor’s degree to be qualified for this school.

Programs Offered:
  • Master of Public Health



  Interests and Skills  
Interested in becoming a public health inspector? You need to be tactful, sensitive, and understanding, as well as firm and dedicated. You should be good at problem-solving and decision-making. You should enjoy working in a structured environment, with established rules and guidelines, but also comfortable working on your own. You should be interested in science, as well as community service. You should have an inquisitive mind, be observant, methodical, and don't mind snooping around. You should be able to work well under pressure and stress.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Inspect commercial, industrial and public places
  • Inspect and monitor food safety in food premises
  • Write up reports for each visit
  • Take legal action when necessary
  • Take samples from sites to test for environmental pollution
  • Host workshops and talks to discus public health matters
  • Make proposals to governments, small business associations, and corporations about adjustments to their work place
  • The typical day for a health inspector will involve a lot of inspecting. They travel throughout their communities, assessing all sorts of environments, from popular picnic spots to huge food preparation facilities. Health inspectors also host talks and workshops for those interested in public health and safety. They meet many people, including small business owners, high-powered executives, and everyone in between.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Public health inspectors spend much of their time on the road, traveling throughout their communities to food processing plants and slaughterhouses, waste disposal centers, hotels and motels, long term care facilities, hospitals, offices, wells, septic tanks, public pools, beaches, schools, bars, dance clubs, restaurants....Health inspectors see it all.
  • When they are not on inspections, they are in their offices, writing up reports, setting up scheduled appointments, and taking questions from the public. Their hours are usually regular, unless there is an outbreak of some illness and a number of complaints are lodged with the office. Some may have to go out at night if inspecting a nightclub or a restaurant. They usually work alone, for health agencies, or are on staff with a food processing plant.
  • The job may involve exposure to hazardous materials and infections, so it is important to be safety-conscious in this line of work. As well, the people found in violation of health codes are often angry, so it is important to be alert at all times.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Public health inspectors can move up the ranks to supervisory or administrative positions within their department. They can become teachers or professors, taking their expertise to students. They can apply their knowledge to public health nursing, become politicians, environmental advocates, or open an extremely clean restaurant. Some may even choose to write health and safety manuals for businesses, or articles and books on health and safety for the general public.

  Educational Paths  
Public health inspectors are required to have completed either a community college diploma or a university degree in public and environmental health, food sciences, or water chemistry. Once you have the education, you will be trained for six months in the field, and then must pass a set of exams.

If you are interested in this career, a good idea is to find work in a restaurant. This will give you a good view of what goes on behind the scenes, and you'll learn all the dos and don'ts of restaurant life.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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