Food preparation workers perform preparation duties as part of a kitchen team at a restaurant, hotel, school, or anywhere else that serves food. They typically perform routine duties, such as slicing meats, peeling vegetables, cleaning and sanitizing equipment, recording food temperatures, and restocking buffets.
Food preparation workers need to have strong listening and teamwork skills, dexterity, attention to detail, and the ability to use inventory and menu costing software. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that food preparation workers earned a median annual salary of $20,180.
Food preparation workers typically learn most of their skills through on-the-job training. Beginning employees may work under the guidance of more experienced culinary workers. They start out by learning food handling basics, such as food safety and sanitation standards. Prep workers may then be trained in preparation techniques, such as slicing and chopping.
Food preparation workers may also want to earn their driver's license to work in the field. Some employers require workers to deliver meals to customers in addition to their food preparation duties, so a clean and valid driver's license is essential.
Food preparation workers spend a great deal of time working on their feet and often have to lift heavy equipment and packages, sometimes up to 35 pounds in weight. Additionally, they may be responsible for gathering kitchen utensils for kitchen workers, which may require walking, bending, and lifting. Developing a fitness plan may be a good way for food preparation workers to stay in the best physical shape to effectively perform their jobs.
Get Food Handler Permit
Some employers require food preparation workers to hold a food handler permit. Steps for acquiring this permit vary according to state and county requirements, but typically involve attending an approved course that instructs candidates in proper food handling, preparation, and serving practices. These courses may be offered online or in a classroom environment. Candidates must pass a food handling exam or several quizzes upon completion of the course.
Some states require food preparation workers to pass TB tests and have up-to-date immunizations and hepatitis A vaccinations in order to obtain food handler permits. Aspiring food preparation workers should research the specific requirements in their states or counties to confirm their eligibility.
Consider Postsecondary Training
While there are no strict educational requirements for becoming a food preparation worker, some employers seek workers who have completed some college coursework in a culinary subject. Community colleges and vocational schools offer certificate programs, sometimes as part of a larger associate's degree program in culinary arts. They typically include career-oriented courses, such as safety and sanitation, food preparation, food cost control, and kitchen operations.
Some certificate programs offer computer courses focused on kitchen and food preparation. Food preparation workers may seek programs that specifically offer courses to help build these computer skills. With practice and experience, some food preparation workers can advance into positions of higher responsibility, such as line cooks or chef's assistants.
To recap, food preparation workers gain most of their training on the job, though those who earn a driver's license, get a permit for handling food, and consider postsecondary training might have the best opportunities for securing a job and eventually advancing.