Food Processing Operators

Summary

Food processing operators
Food processing operators use machines to make large batches of foodstuffs.
Quick Facts: Food Processing Operators
2010 Median Pay $24,250 per year
$11.66 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 1 year
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2010 131,000
Job Outlook, 2010-20 2% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2010-20 2,300

What Food Processing Operators Do

Food processing operators include food batchmakers and food cooking machine operators and tenders. These workers may set up, operate, and tend cooking equipment that mixes, blends, cooks, or otherwise processes ingredients used to manufacture food products.

Work Environment

Food processing operators work in food processing facilities. Facilities are usually loud and may be hot or cold, depending on the goods being produced. Most food processing operators worked full time in 2010.

How to Become a Food Processing Operator

Most food processing operators have at least a high school degree. Because of the increasing complexity of the equipment, math and English skills may be required. Physical stamina is required, and some previous experience in manufacturing is preferred.

Pay

The median annual wage of food processing operators was $24,250 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of food processing operators is expected to experience little or no change, growing 2 percent from 2010 to 2020. Population growth, international trade, and consumer preference for convenience foods will maintain demand for these workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of food processing operators with similar occupations.

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What Food Processing Operators Do

Food processing operators
A food batchmaker uses a large vat to make cheese.

Food processing operators include food batchmakers and food cooking machine operators and tenders. These workers may set up, operate, and tend cooking equipment that mixes, blends, cooks, or otherwise processes ingredients used to manufacture food products.

Duties

Food processing operators typically do the following:

  • Set up and calibrate equipment for daily use
  • Weigh ingredients
  • Make mixtures
  • Control temperatures, oil or water flow rates, humidity, and pressures of cooking machinery with thermostats and valves
  • Operate mixers and manage ingredients to meet product quality and uniformity standards
  • Monitor products by watching, tasting, or listening to machinery
  • Comply with food safety regulations
  • Report equipment malfunctions to team leaders, supervisors, or maintenance staff in a timely manner
  • Maintain clean workspaces and equipment to meet health and safety standards
  • Fill work orders and weigh and otherwise check products to ensure accuracy and quality
  • Dismantle, clean, and store equipment for future use

Although workers in food processing operations share many similar duties, there are differences depending on the work being done. The following are types of food processing operators:

Food batchmakers are more likely to work in facilities producing baked goods, pasta, and tortillas. They mix ingredients to make dough, load and unload ovens, operate noodle extruders, and do tasks specific to large-scale commercial baking.

Food cooking machine operators and tenders operate or tend cooking equipment to prepare food products. For example, workers who preserve and can fruits and vegetables usually operate equipment that boils water to cook and preserve their products.

Potato and corn chip manufacturers employ workers who operate frying machines and work around hot oil. Sugar and confectionary manufacturers have an enormous assortment of equipment that stretches, blends, heats, coats, decorates, and cools candies, chocolates, doughnuts, or other sweets.

Other workers may operate equipment that mixes spices for meat products, mills grains, or extracts oil from seeds. Almost all of these machines require skilled operators to report malfunctions or make adjustments.

Work Environment

Food processing operators
Food processing operators often work on a production line and need to stand most of the time.

Food processing operators held about 131,000 jobs in 2010.

Food processing operators typically work in food processing facilities, although they also work in many other industries. Besides being employed in the following industries, some food batchmakers were self-employed or worked in retail grocery-type environments in 2010:

Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing21%
Fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing12
Dairy product manufacturing11
Sugar and confectionery product manufacturing8
Animal slaughtering and processing7

In 2010, the largest numbers of food cooking machine operators and tenders were employed in the following industries: 

Fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing20%
Animal slaughtering and processing14
Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing12
Grocery stores7
Sugar and confectionery product manufacturing5

As with other manufacturing and food processing occupations, work tends to be in large, loud facilities. Food processing operators also are frequently exposed to high temperatures when working around cooking machinery. Workers also may work in cold environments for long periods if the goods being produced need to be refrigerated.

Food processing operators typically stand for the majority of their shifts. Their equipment is often large, and loading, unloading, cleaning, and prepping it for use may require heavy lifting, bending, kneeling, and reaching.

Food processing operators typically work on assembly lines, and workers must be able to keep up with the line speed while maintaining product quality. They wear protective clothing to keep both themselves and the food safe.

Injuries

Working around hot liquids or machinery that cuts or presses can be dangerous. Food processing operators, like many other production occupations, have a rate of injuries and illnesses that is higher than the average for all other occupations.

Work Schedules

Most food processing operators work full time. About one-quarter of food batchmakers worked part time in 2010.

How to Become a Food Processing Operator

Food processing operators
Most food processing operators learn on the job.

Most food processing operators have at least a high school degree. Because of the increasing complexity of the equipment, math and English skills may be required. Physical stamina is required, and some previous experience in manufacturing is preferred.

Work Experience

Employers may prefer or require some manufacturing experience. If a worker does not have experience in manufacturing, employers favor experience in some other physically demanding occupation such as construction.

A work record showing reliability, trustworthiness, and the ability to work well on a team is important. The more technical jobs in this category require workers to set up and calibrate machinery, and prospective workers need previous relevant experience and training if they do not hold an appropriate postsecondary qualification.

Education

Math and reading skills are important because workers may be required to take measurements for tracking and quality control. A high school education is preferred by most employers and required by many. However, almost a quarter of all workers in this occupation have less than a high school diploma or its equivalent.

General production workers, also called line workers, who do not calibrate or maintain equipment are not expected to have job-specific knowledge. They are trained on the job.

Workers who set up and calibrate equipment may need a degree or special training and experience. A small number of jobs in this occupation require a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering and may require an understanding of thermodynamics or engineering principles.

Training

Most food processing operators learn on the job and are not expected to know what to do before they start. On-the-job training may last only a few days or as long as 1 month. They also usually get periodic health and safety training to update their knowledge of rules or procedures.

Experienced workers show trainees how to properly use and care for tools and equipment.

Companies also usually train their employees for more advanced technical work because they tend to promote from within rather than hire new employees for advanced positions.

Advancement

Interested and achievement-oriented workers may be able to advance to positions that formulate new products or production techniques. This type of work would probably require a degree in engineering or a science, such as chemistry or biology. Workers may also advance to jobs in quality assurance or management.

Important Qualities

Concentration. Food processing operators should be able to focus on what they are doing so that they may avoid injury and wasted products.

Coordination. Food processing operators need good hand-eye coordination to prepare products safely and keep up with the assembly line.

Detail oriented. Food processing operators must be able to detect small changes in quality or quantity and closely follow health and safety standards. They carefully watch gauges, dials, or other indicators to ensure a machine is working properly.

Mechanical skills. Food processing operators need some knowledge of machines and tools to understand how they work, how to use them, and how to maintain and repair them.

Speed. Food processing operators must be able to keep up with the flow of the assembly line.

Stamina. Food processing operators must be able to stay on their feet and be physically active for long periods.

Teamwork. Food processing operators work with others to keep the assembly line running smoothly. They are often closely supported by technical and managerial staff.

Pay

Food Processing Operators

Median annual wages, May 2010

Total, All Occupations

$33,840

Food Batchmakers

$24,640

Food Processing Operators

$24,250

Food Cooking Machine Operators and Tenders

$23,380

 

The median annual wage of food batchmakers was $24,640 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,220, and the top 10 percent earned more than $40,760.

The median annual wage of food cooking machine operators and tenders was $23,380 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,890, and the top 10 percent earned more than $37,270.

Most food processing operators work full time and have regular hours. About one-quarter of food batchmakers worked part time in 2010.

Job Outlook

Food Processing Operators

Percent change in employment, projected 2010-20

Total, All Occupations

14%

Food Cooking Machine Operators and Tenders

5%

Food Processing Operators

2%

Food Batchmakers

1%

 

Employment of food batchmakers is expected to experience little or no change, growing 1 percent from 2010 to 2020.

Employment of food cooking machine operators and tenders is expected to grow by 5 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations

Food processing operators are employed in many industries but are concentrated in food manufacturing industries, such as bakeries and tortilla manufacturing, dairy products, and fruit and vegetable manufacturing. These industries are always seeking ways to increase productivity, usually through automation, which decreases the need for workers. 

Population growth, international trade, and consumer preference for convenience foods will maintain demand for these workers.

However, manufacturing industries can be volatile, and employment of food processing workers is likely to differ by industry and type of food being processed. Although employment for this occupation is projected to increase across all industries, some industries may shrink by 2020, which will generally reduce employment of food processing operators in those industries. These occupations have higher-than-average job turnover and may provide good opportunities despite slow employment growth.

Job Prospects

Food processing industries are becoming more and more consolidated. Job prospects should be best in rural areas or near smaller cities where the large processing facilities are located.

The need to replace food processing operators who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons will create many job openings.

Employment projections data for food processing operators, 2010-20
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2010 Projected Employment, 2020 Change, 2010-20 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Food Processing Operators

131,000 133,400 2 2,300

Food Batchmakers

51-3092 98,700 99,400 1 700 [XLS]

Food Cooking Machine Operators and Tenders

51-3093 32,300 34,000 5 1,600 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of food processing operators.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2010 MEDIAN PAY Help
Bakers

Bakers

Bakers mix and bake ingredients according to recipes to make a variety of breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

Less than high school $23,450
Chefs and head cooks

Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants or other places where food is served. They direct kitchen staff and handle any food-related concerns.

High school diploma or equivalent $40,630
Construction equipment operators

Construction Equipment Operators

Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver, or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings, and other structures.

High school diploma or equivalent $39,460
Construction laborers and helpers

Construction Laborers and Helpers

Construction laborers and helpers do many basic tasks that require physical labor on construction sites.

See How to Become One $28,410
Food processing occupations

Food Processing Occupations

Food processing occupations include butchers and meat cutters; meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers; and operators and tenders of roasting, baking, and drying machinery. These workers cut, trim, or otherwise process food items, such as meat, or nonfood items, such as tobacco, for retail sale.

Less than high school $23,950
Meat trimmers and packers

Slaughterers and Meat Packers

Slaughterers and meat packers kill and clean animals, divide carcasses into manageable sections, and grind or otherwise prepare and pack products, such as boxed beef, for shipping to distribution centers.

Less than high school $23,380
Sewers and tailors

Sewers and Tailors

Sewers and tailors sew, join, reinforce, or finish clothing or other items. They may create new pieces of clothing from patterns and designs or alter existing garments to fit customers better.

Less than high school $25,850
Stationary engineers and boiler operators

Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators

Stationary engineers and boiler operators control stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or for industrial purposes.

High school diploma or equivalent $52,140
Upholsterers

Upholsterers

Upholsterers make, replace, and repair coverings on furniture and in vehicles.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,960
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Food Processing Operators,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/food-processing-operators.htm (visited February 28, 2015).

Publish Date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012