Two food-safety vets are on the short list to head up the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

Caroline Smith-Dewaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and former FSIS administrator Barbara Masters are the final contenders, unidentified union officials, reps from the food industry and experts in food safety told the Washington Post. (Thanks to the Marler Blog for alerting us to the story.) Masters, who is in her 40s, is now a senior policy adviser at the Washington law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC.

Smith-Dewaal couldn’t be reached last night and didn't immediately return a call this morning. She wouldn't comment to the Post about any discussions with the Obama administration. Masters, who was FSIS administrator in the Bush White House and a career official in the agency since 1989, tells this morning that she's  "not in a position to talk about" any talks she may be in for the job. “I would take it and I would support the admininstration regardless of whether they put me in the position,” she says.

FSIS oversees U.S. commercial meat, poultry and eggs. It has nothing to do with the safety of foodstuffs like peanut butter and jalapeno peppers that have been contaminated with salmonella bacteria, pet food laced with the chemical melamine — scandals that have embroiled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Image © iStockphoto/Marc Dietrich