Career Advice >> Browse Articles >> Culinary Career Guides


Who's Who: Food Processing Occupations

Who's Who: Food Processing Occupations

Chef's Blade

Food processing occupations include many different types of workers who process raw food products into the finished goods sold by grocers, wholesalers, restaurants, or institutional food services. These workers perform a variety of tasks and are responsible for producing many of the food products found in every household. Some of these workers are bakers, others process meat, and still others operate food processing equipment.

Bakers mix and bake ingredients according to recipes to produce varying quantities of breads, pastries, and other baked goods. Bakers commonly are employed in grocery stores and specialty shops and produce small quantities of breads, pastries, and other baked goods for consumption on premises or for sale as specialty baked goods. While the quantities are often small, the varieties of bread usually are not. Specialty handcrafted—or artisan—bread, comes with seeds, nuts, fruits, olives, and cheese, which can be included in a crusty loaf, round loaf, flat or even focaccia bread. Bakers can also add a variety of flavors, too, such as rosemary, pecan, fig, garlic, red pepper, sesame, and anise.

In manufacturing, bakers produce goods in large quantities, using high-volume mixing machines, ovens, and other equipment. Goods produced in large quantities usually are available for sale through distributors, grocery stores, supermarkets, or manufacturers’ outlets.

Other food processing workers convert animal carcasses into manageable pieces of meat, known as boxed meat or case-ready meat, suitable for sale to wholesalers and retailers. The nature of their jobs varies significantly depending on the stage of the process in which they are involved. Butchers and meat cutters, for example, work primarily in groceries and wholesale establishments that provide meat to restaurants and other retailers; whereas, meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers commonly work in animal slaughtering and processing plants.

In animal slaughtering and processing plants, slaughterers and meat packers slaughter cattle, hogs, goats, and sheep, and cut the carcasses into large wholesale cuts, such as rounds, loins, ribs, tenders, and chucks, to facilitate the handling, distribution, marketing, and sale of meat. In most plants, some slaughterers and meat packers further process the large parts into cuts that are ready for retail stores. Retailers and grocers increasingly prefer such prepackaged meat products because a butcher isn’t needed to display and sell them. Slaughterers and meat packers also produce hamburger meat and meat trimmings, preparing sausages, luncheon meats, and other fabricated meat products. They usually work on assembly lines, with each individual responsible for only a few of the many cuts needed to process a carcass. Depending on the type of cut, these workers use knives; cleavers; meat saws; bandsaws; or other potentially dangerous equipment.

Poultry cutters and trimmers slaughter and cut up chickens, turkeys, and other types of poultry. Although the poultry processing industry is becoming increasingly automated, many jobs, such as trimming, packing, and deboning, are still done manually. Most poultry cutters and trimmers perform routine cuts on poultry as it moves along production lines.

Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers also prepare ready-to-heat foods, usually at processing plants. This preparation often entails filleting meat, poultry, or fish; cutting it into bite-sized pieces or tenders; preparing and adding vegetables; and applying sauces and flavorings, marinades, or breading. These case-ready products are gaining in popularity as they offer quick and easy preparation for consumers while, in many cases, also offering a healthier option.

Manufacturing and retail establishments are likely to employ fish cutters and trimmers, also called fish cleaners. These workers primarily scale, cut, and dress fish by removing the head, scales, and other inedible portions and cutting the fish into steaks or fillets. In retail markets, these workers may also wait on customers and clean fish to order.

Butchers and meat cutters process meat at later stages of production. Those who work for large grocery stores, wholesale establishments that supply meat to restaurants, or institutional food service facilities separate wholesale cuts of meat into retail cuts or smaller pieces, known as primals. These butchers cut meat into steaks and chops, shape and tie roasts, and grind beef for sale as chopped meat. Boneless cuts are prepared using knives, slicers, or power cutters, while bandsaws and cleavers are required to cut bone-in pieces of meat. Butchers and meat cutters in retail food stores also may weigh, wrap, and label the cuts of meat; arrange them in refrigerated cases for display; and prepare special cuts to fill unique orders by customers.

Others in food processing occupations include food batchmakers, who set up and operate equipment that mixes, blends, or cooks ingredients used in the manufacture of food products according to formulas or recipes; food cooking machine operators and tenders, who operate or tend cooking equipment, such as steam-cooking vats, deep-fry cookers, pressure cookers, kettles, and boilers to prepare food products, such as meat, sugar, cheese, and grain; and food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders, who use equipment to reduce the moisture content of food or tobacco products or to prepare food for canning. The machines they use include hearth ovens, kiln driers, roasters, char kilns, steam ovens, and vacuum drying equipment.

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).