A Public Health Inspector’s Job plays a very important function in ensuring the food safety of residents or customers of foodservice establishments in cities across the United States.
The main job of a Public Health Sanitarian/Inspector is to ensure that restaurants or other food facilities are in compliance with the NYC Department of Health’s food safety and procedures by conducting unannounced health inspections.
In this blog, I will share with you my experiences working as a Public Health Inspector in NYC and highlight some of the pros and cons of working at the DOHMH. You will be educated on all you need to know before pursuing a career in Public Health Inspection.
Bachelors Degree with 30 credits in physical and /biological sciences or An Associates Degree with 15 credits physical and /biological sciences and 5 years of experience as a Public Health Technician assisting Sanitarians.
Highly Recommended Exam for Public Health Inspectors.
If you are planning on pursuing a career as a Public Health Inspector, I highly recommend that you take the Public Health Sanitarian Exam.
The exam is offered through the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).
You pay an application fee of $61 and must pass the computerized multiple-choice exam with at least 70%.
Passing this sanitarian exam provides job security. You will not be “bumped” when the new hiring process begins.
Do You Need The Inspector Exam?
I did not have an exam grade at the time of hire. However, I was hired as a “conditional” employee.
This means that when they start the hiring process each year, someone from another department in the DOHMH or a newly hired with a passing exam grade can bump me out of my position.
This exam at the time I was working, was offered every 3-4 years.
What happens After You Are Hired As An Inspector?
After you have completed the online application and sent in all the required documents, completed the interviews, You may be selected for a position.
Rigorous Training Provided
When you are hired, an Inspection badge will be given. A Public Health Inspector goes through several months of paid training that involves both theory and practice in the field.
A Health Inspector in training will learn all the NYC health codes/regulations, Food safety/foodborne illnesses, and how to accurately write inspection notes/violations.
You will be tested 1-2 times per week and required to pass with at least 75% or higher.
Bear in mind that if you choose to work the night shift, the training is done during the day. I was lucky to work with the night shift Inspectors a few months before the real training started.
During the training, your Supervisor will pair you with an experienced Health Inspector. You will work along side or shadow him/her to gain some hands on experience. They will allow you, when they feel you are comfortable, to conduct an inspection, and write the violation report for the restaurant owners.
Health Inspector Food Protection Course
At some point during the training, you will take the Food Protection Course for 1 week. After passing the exam at the end of the week, you will receive your food protection card. This card is required to work in the field.
Health Inspector's Equipment
As an Inspector, you will be carrying around a cell phone, laptop, a printer, and paper for printing your violation reports, instruments for performing your inspections. These and carrying bag can weigh a total of up to 40 lbs.
Becoming An Official Health Inspector.
At the end of your training, the reviews of the Inspectors you shadowed will determine if you are ready for the Inspection practical exam.
Your Inspection Practical Exam
A Supervisor will assign 3 – 4 restaurants for you to inspect. They are not going to choose easy restaurants. You will probably be assigned restaurants in locations such as China Town where you most likely will find several “major” food safety and health violations.
While you are conducting the inspections, you are being observed by your accompanying Supervisor. His or her presence only promotes added pressure.
After completing the inspection, you then have to type all the violations observed, print it, and discuss with the restaurant owner or manager on duty.
Violations = Money $$$
Even though food safety is said to be the focus of the department, the real goal is making money.
The more violations you observe and document, the more money restaurant owners will have to pay.
During training, a lot of time and emphasis is placed on a well-written violation note.
An Inspector’s violation can be thrown out if the restaurant owner contests the violation in court.
As an Inspector, you will have to debate or prove your rationale for the violation before a judge.
If the judge sees the violation as weak, then it will be thrown out and as a result, the department loses money.
How Do You Pass or Fail An Inspector Practical Exam
Your Supervisor will provide you with an overall review of your inspection performance. Based on their evaluation, they will determine if you pass or fail your inspections.
If you fail, then you will be sent for more training in the field until you are assessed ready for another inspection exam.
On the other hand, if you pass your inspection, then you will be crowned as an official Public Health Inspector and you will be given a weekly schedule with all the restaurants you will need to inspect on your own.
The Grading System
As an official Restaurant Inspector, you will be responsible for giving restaurants in NYC a letter grade (A, B, C) based on the number of violations observed. You have the power to close down a restaurant’s operation if you assess certain violations such as rat infestation or no water on-premises.
Look Up Your Restaurant’s Inspection Results
You can visit ABCEats Website to look up your favorite restaurant’s recent grades and violations results associated with said grade.
The New York Times wrote a very interesting article that encapsulates the life of a restaurant Inspector. They featured one of the Inspectors that I had the privilege of working alongside.
Where Do Inspectors Work?
- Restaurants with Bars
- Clubs that serve food
- Food Trucks
- Tattoo Parlors
Within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there are several different departments that tackle inspections at specific food/health establishments.
For example, there are Inspectors that mainly inspect food trucks or hospitals and schools.
The Department of Health Inspector’s Work shifts.
9 am – 5 pm
A day shift inspector mostly visits restaurants such as fast-food chains, and high-end restaurants.
2:30 pm – 11:00 pm
This shift mostly frequent high-end restaurants, restaurants with bars, full bars or clubs that sell food.
What Are My Thoughts About Public Health Inspections
I Personally enjoyed the job. I loved the idea of traveling across the 5 boroughs (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) of NYC to conduct inspections.
This job has taken me to places in NYC that I never knew existed. However, the work environment and the politics of the department make it very stressful. This job is not for the faint of heart.
High Inspector Turnover Rates
The department has a very high turnover rate. Inspectors constantly resign and they either move on to other departments in the DOH or find other jobs outside of DOHMH.
Lots of Over-time
While the starting salary is very low, because of the shortage of inspectors, there is a lot of overtime especially close to the end of the fiscal year. Inspectors have made 6 figures or close to six-figures annually by putting in a lot of overtime. You can visit See Through NY Website to see the salaries of all those who work for the city of NY.
You Will Have To Kiss A lot of Ass.
The job function of an Inspector is not challenging. It feels like you are running your own business. However, your Supervisor will conduct unscheduled visits to restaurants right after you have completed your inspection to make sure that you are doing your job.
The most stressful part of the job is the politics of the department. It’s a dog eat dog world. You never want to challenge or question anyone in leadership; you will become a target. To “survive” in the toxic department, you will have to kiss the supervisor’s ass to gain approval or to have a more peaceful work environment
Even if you are the worse inspector, as long as you and your supervisors become friends or at least pretend, then you are guaranteed a much smoother running during your time there.
Would I Recommend A Career as a Public Health Inspector?
This job is good for those who are just leaving college and need to gain some experience.
I do not see much room for growth because those supervisors and directors are going to stay there until they retire. However, 2 years of experience in food safety as a Health Inspector can be a stepping stone into other career paths.
The PROS and CONS Of A Health Inspector Job.
- You will gain a wealth of knowledge about food safety and foodborne illnesses.
- An Inspector Job gets you to travel across the 5 Boroughs of NYC.
- You will get exposed to different Cuisine and Menus at different restaurants.
- One gets to see operations beyond the dining area of your most popular restaurants.
- Working for the city of NY comes with great benefits: health, pension; you become apart of a workers union.
- Lots of over-time
- Health Inspectors can work in very extreme weather conditions: it could be 110 ºF or -10 ºF, you must report to work.
- Violations = money: The more violations you write, the more income for the department. More emphasis is placed on violation writing than educating restaurant owners.
- While NYC has easy access to trains or buses, owning a car makes your job much easier. However, finding parking can be stressful.
- The starting salary is very low.