Life as a Seafood Inspector

By: Thomas Siebertz

If you’ve been involved in any type of food operation, you know that food companies work around the clock to provide food for the world. That means that government inspectors must be there right along with them to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of the products. As I thought about doing a “day in the life” post for my job as a seafood inspector, I realized every day is usually completely different.

Let’s start with some background info:

My agency, the USDC Seafood Inspection Program, is a voluntary one that inspects seafood products and facilities on a fee-for-service basis, meaning participants from the industry pay for our services. Aside from doing product inspections and in-plant inspections, we also certify seafood products for export. In comparison, USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and FDA are mandatory agencies that regulate foods under their jurisdiction and operate under appropriated funds from Congress. Basically, we have a slew of companies that opt in to our program. Some companies are audited on a regular basis, while others have weekly or daily inspections depending on program requirements.

Here is a snapshot of my “typical” week:


I am up at 4:00 am to drive into Boston and inspect live lobsters for export. I am looking to see that product is fresh and alive and that the packaging is in good condition. I’ll check random cases using a sampling plan. After that, I’m on my way to inspect fresh Salmon destined for supermarkets across the country. This includes analyzing the quality attributes (flavor, odor, color, texture, etc) and checking for economic integrity (ie. weights, counts, sizes, etc).


I leave my house at 2:00 am to arrive at a seafood processing facility at 3:00 am and conduct a sanitation inspection of the entire facility. This takes quite a while at a large facility with many different types of machinery. This is a “value-added” seafood plant, which processes breaded, fried fish sticks and fish portions. I examine all food contact surfaces and the condition and cleanliness of the building and grounds. I will also monitor production and employees for Good Manufacturing Practice and ensure the HACCP plan is effective.


I’m up at 6:00 am to report to the office, get a vehicle, and head to a cold storage facility where I’ll be picking up frozen product for further inspection. I use a sampling plan to pull the required number of samples, depending on the size of the lot. I then stamp the whole lot with a government shield logo to show it’s been sampled. Then I’ll take the product back to our lab and either myself or another inspector will do the inspection according to market or client specifications.


I’m up at 3:00 am to arrive at a facility that processes live lobster into packages of cooked meat and frozen tails. I will conduct a sanitation inspection of the entire facility encompassing all physical areas of the plant. I will also check to ensure all food contact surfaces are adequately cleaned and sanitized.


I leave my house at 4:30 am to arrive at a facility by 5:30 am to conduct a pre-op inspection at a company which packs fresh scallops. Here I will conduct an inspection of all the processing equipment and all physical areas of the plant. I will also monitor production and employees for Good Manufacturing Practices. When I’m finished, I report my findings to the person in charge of sanitation. Since I still have time left in the day, I’ll go back to our lab and do a product inspection of samples pulled from a cold storage facility. Using a product specification or US Grade Standard, I will examine the product for quality and condition, wholesomeness, economic integrity, and other quality attributes depending on the request (ie. moisture content, color, size, texture, etc).


So, as you can see, I have a pretty crazy schedule, always waking up and starting at different times, and going to different places in my region. This is just a snapshot…the next week will be completely different, which keeps things interesting.


To learn more, checkout this great article about our program:

How about you? What is your work schedule like? Would you rather have the same hours doing the same thing every day or do you like not knowing what the next day or week will bring? Either way, if it’s in the food industry, it’s probably pretty crazy!


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  1. Emily W.

    I don’t know if I could get up that early every day, but I do love the different experiences you have day-to-day when working in the food industry! Never a boring day!

    • U15001572

      Being able to travel like you do must be amazing! The work you do is so important. You insure our safety and health, making sure consumers are getting the best quality products. Are most of the businesses you inspect complying with the rules and regulations given to them? And if not what procedures do you follow to insure their ways change?

  2. We have to drink a lot of coffee! lol

  3. Andrea Pomposo

    What time are typically off for the day? Do you put in an 8 hour day, just counting from when you start in the morning?

  4. My normal schedule is 7:00 am to 3:30 but it’s rare that I work during those times. And yes I always put in an 8 hour day so if I start early I get off earlier too which is always nice.