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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvUC7xCL6Pc.
Quick Facts: Food Preparation Workers
2021 Median Pay $28,780 per year
$13.84 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2021 817,400
Job Outlook, 2021-31 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 17,700

What Food Preparation Workers Do

Food preparation workers perform a variety of tasks other than cooking, such as slicing meat and brewing coffee.

Work Environment

Food preparation workers are employed in places where food is made or served, such as cafeterias, grocery stores, hospitals, and schools. Part-time work is common. Work schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker

Food preparation workers typically do not need a formal educational credential or previous work experience to enter the occupation. They learn through on-the-job training that usually lasts several weeks.

Pay

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $13.84 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 145,800 openings for food preparation workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for food preparation workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of food preparation workers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about food preparation workers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Food Preparation Workers Do About this section

Food preparation workers
Food preparation workers clean and sanitize work areas.

Food preparation workers perform a variety of tasks other than cooking. Their duties include preparing cold foods, slicing meat, peeling and cutting vegetables, brewing coffee or tea, and doing many other food service tasks.

Duties

Food preparation workers typically do the following:

  • Clean and sanitize work areas, equipment, utensils, and dishes
  • Weigh or measure ingredients, such as meats and liquids
  • Prepare fruit and vegetables for cooking
  • Cut meats, poultry, and seafood and prepare them for cooking
  • Mix ingredients for salads
  • Keep food in suitable containers and storage areas to prevent spoilage
  • Take and record the temperature of food and food storage areas
  • Place food trays over food warmers for immediate service

Food preparation workers help cooks and other kitchen staff by preparing ingredients for dishes. Common duties include slicing and dicing fruits, vegetables, and meat; making salads, sandwiches, and other cold food items; and keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean. They usually work under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Food preparation workers also retrieve pots and pans, clean and store kitchen equipment, and unload and store food supplies. When needed, they retrieve food and equipment for cooks and chefs. In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, or grinders.

In addition, these workers may stock and use soda machines, tea brewers, and coffeemakers to prepare beverages for customers.

Work Environment About this section

Food preparation workers
Food preparation workers wear gloves for safe food handling.

Food preparation workers held about 817,400 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 50%
Food and beverage stores 22
Healthcare and social assistance 6
Special food services 5

Food preparation workers held about 886,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

The work is often strenuous. Food preparation workers may stand for hours at a time while cleaning or preparing ingredients. Some are required to move heavy pots or food supplies.

The fast-paced environment in kitchens may be hectic, especially during peak dining hours. Ensuring that dishes are prepared properly and on time may be stressful.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation areas in kitchens have potential safety hazards, such as hot ovens and slippery floors. As a result, food preparation workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. The most common risks include minor slips, falls, cuts, and burns. To reduce these risks, workers often wear gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Part-time work is common for food preparation workers. Work schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays.

Those in school cafeterias may have more regular schedules and may work only during the academic year, usually 9 or 10 months. In establishments that offer seasonal employment, food preparation workers may be hired for only a few months each year.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker About this section

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers typically learn their skills on the job from an experienced worker.

Food preparation workers typically do not need a formal educational credential or previous work experience to enter the occupation. They learn their job tasks through on-the-job training.

Education

There typically are no formal education requirements for becoming a food preparation worker. However, employers may require or prefer that candidates have some high school education or a diploma.

Training

Food preparation workers typically get short-term on-the-job training, which usually lasts several weeks. Trainees typically learn basic kitchen duties from an experienced worker. Their training also may include basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations, as well as instructions on how to handle and prepare food.

Advancement

Opportunities for food preparation workers to advance depend on their training and work experience. Food preparation workers may advance to become assistant cooks or line cooks as they learn basic cooking skills.

Important Qualities

Dexterity. Food preparation workers must be able to quickly and safely chop vegetables, cut meat, and perform other tasks with sharp knives.

Interpersonal skills. Food preparation workers must work well with kitchen staff to ensure that dishes are prepared properly and on time.

Listening skills. Food preparation workers must understand customers’ orders and follow directions from cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Physical stamina. Food preparation workers stand on their feet for long periods while they prepare food, clean work areas, or lift pots from the stove.

Physical strength. Food preparation workers may need to move heavy food supply items and kitchen equipment.

Pay About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$22.00

Cooks and food preparation workers

$13.99

Food preparation workers

$13.84

 

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $13.84 in May 2021. 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 $9.39, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.30.

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Food and beverage stores $14.31
Special food services 13.94
Healthcare and social assistance 13.73
Restaurants and other eating places 13.55

Part-time work is common for food preparation workers. Work schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays.

Those in school cafeterias may have more regular hours and may work only during the academic year, usually 9 or 10 months. In establishments that offer seasonal employment, food preparation workers may be hired for only a few months each year.

Job Outlook About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Cooks and food preparation workers

13%

Total, all occupations

5%

Food preparation workers

2%

 

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 145,800 openings for food preparation workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020 and is likely to occur early in the projections decade.

Population and income growth are expected to result in increased consumer demand for prepared food at a variety of dining places, including restaurants and grocery stores, which should create jobs for food preparation workers.

However, some restaurants and cafeterias may customize their food orders from wholesalers and distributors in an effort to lower costs. For example, they may order prewashed, precut, or preseasoned ingredients, which is expected to reduce the need for food preparation workers. Additionally, some establishments prefer to employ fast food and counter workers, who both prepare and serve food to customers, which also may limit employment growth.

Employment projections data for food preparation workers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Food preparation workers

35-2021 817,400 835,100 2 17,700 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Bakers Bakers

Bakers mix ingredients according to recipes in order to make breads, pastries, and other baked goods.

No formal educational credential $29,750
butchers and meat cutters image Butchers

Butchers cut, trim, and package meat for retail sale.

No formal educational credential $36,050
Chefs and head cooks Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served.

High school diploma or equivalent $50,160
Cooks Cooks

Cooks season and prepare foods, including soups, salads, entrees, and desserts.

See How to Become One $29,120
Food and beverage serving and related workers Food and Beverage Serving and Related Workers

Food and beverage serving and related workers take and prepare orders, clear tables, and do other tasks associated with providing food and drink to customers.

No formal educational credential $25,980
Bartenders Bartenders

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

No formal educational credential $26,350
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Food Preparation Workers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/food-preparation-workers.htm (visited November 17, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Monday, September 19, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.