Average Salary:

$39,830 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics

Training in Alabama:

Tuskegee University: College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences

Auburn University: Department of Nutrition and Food Science

Alabama A&M University: Department of Food and Animal Sciences

“I travel independently throughout the community to inspect food processing plants, hotels, restaurants, day care and nursing home food service facilities, jails, schools, night clubs and even body art facilities. Every day I am out meeting new people and seeing different things.”
Career Interview:
Briefly describe your career as a food scientist.
I have been employed with the State of Alabama as a Public Health Environmentalist for four years. I have worked for both the Limestone County and Madison County Health Departments.

What type of environment do you work in.
As a Public Health Environmentalist, I spend a lot of time on the road. I travel independently throughout the community to inspect food processing plants, hotels, restaurants, day care and nursing home food service facilities, jails, schools, night clubs and even body art facilities. Every day I am out meeting new people and seeing different things. You really have to like working with people to be good at this job because you are always interacting with people. When I’m not doing inspections, I am in the office writing reports, setting appointments, answering phone calls/emails and answering questions from the public. I work normal hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday –Friday) unless there is a food borne outbreak or a special community event such as Big Spring Jam. Occasionally, we will go out at night to inspect a night club or restaurant.

Describe a typical workday.
It’s difficult to describe a typical day because as a Public Health Environmentalist, I wear many hats. Besides inspecting the facilities listed above, my responsibilities include complaint response, food-borne illness investigation and I also teach food safety manager certification courses and serve on the Radiological Emergency Response Team. Public Health Environmentalists also investigate dog bites, solid waste complaints and permit onsite septic tank installations. In this job when things happen we have to respond quickly. It’s hard to find a job with this much variety. I enjoy not being in an office all day.

What type of education and experience is required for a career as a food scientist?
A Bachelors degree from an accredited four year college or university with a minimum of 30 quarter hours or 20 semester hours of course work in biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics or physical science.

What is your educational background?
I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Hygiene from The University of North Alabama. I am currently pursuing a certification as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist.

Why did you choose this career?
I wanted a career where I could utilize my scientific background to educate and make a positive impact on the health and safety of my community.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of being a Public Health Environmentalist is definitely community education. I enjoy having the opportunity to teach food manager certification courses and to visit schools to teach the importance of proper hand-washing. I love to see the students’ faces when I use a tools to illustrate the spread of germs and how effective hand washing is at controlling those germs. It’s exciting to watch the students realize that even though we can’t see them with the naked eye, there are things out there that can make us sick. In the case of a food borne outbreak, it’s my job to try to track down the source of some of those “bad bugs” and stop them in their tracks. Sort of like CSI Microbiology, except without the really cool theme song. The least favorite part of my job is when I have to close a food service facility because of non-compliance with the rules. As a Public Health Environmentalist you have to be ready to make the tough decisions and often in the presence of unhappy people. It is very important to have good people skills and to educate during every inspection to help food workers understand and apply the rules.

Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom for high school students interested in a career in your field?
The wave of the future in food safety is technology. I would seek opportunities for experience and education in technology programs related to microbiology, food cloning, irradiation, environmental and agricultural science.

Are there any other career opportunities in your field you think students should be aware of?
We work closely with Epidemiologists, Building inspectors, Engineers, Agriculture inspectors and FDA Consumer Safety Officers. Career opportunities with the state of Alabama can be found at www.adph.org/employment.
Bonnie Howard
Public Health Environmentalist