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 slaughter or process meat and still others operate food processing equipment.
Bakers mix and bake ingredients according to recipes to produce varying types and quantities of breads, pastries, and other baked goods. Bakers commonly are employed in commercial bakeries that distribute breads and pastries through established wholesale and retail outlets, mail order or manufacturers' outlets. In these manufacturing facilities, bakers produce mostly standardized baked goods in large quantities, using high-volume mixing machines, ovens and other equipment. Grocery stores and specialty shops produce smaller quantities of breads, pastries and other baked goods for consumption on their premises or for sale as specialty baked goods. Although the quantities prepared and sold in these stores are often small, they often come in a wide variety of flavors and sizes.
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. In animal slaughtering and processing plants, slaughterers and meat packers slaughter cattle, hogs and sheep, and cut 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 case-ready cuts that are ready for retail stores. Retailers and grocers increasingly prefer such prepackaged meat products because a butcher isn't needed to further portion the cuts for sale. Slaughterers and meat packers also produce hamburger meat and meat trimmings, and prepare 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 packaging end of the poultry processing industry is becoming increasingly automated, many jobs, such as slaughtering, trimming 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-cook foods, often at processing plants, but increasingly at grocery and specialty food stores. 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 healthier options.
Manufacturing and retail establishments are both 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 then cut the fish into steaks or fillets. In retail markets, these workers also may wait on customers and clean fish to order. Some fish processing is done aboard ships where fish can be caught, processed and often flash frozen to preserve freshness.
Butchers and meat cutters generally process meat at later stages of production, although some are employed at meat processing plants. Most work for grocery stores, wholesale establishments that supply meat to restaurants, or institutional food service facilities that 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 orders by customers.
Others who work in food processing 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 a wide range of cooked food products 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. These workers monitor equipment for temperature, humidity or other factors and make the appropriate adjustments to ensure proper cooking and processing.
All workers who work with food must regularly clean and sanitize utensils, work surfaces and equipment used to process food to comply with health and sanitation guidelines to prevent the spread of disease.