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Food Processing Jobs: Outlook and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a food processor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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In general, there are no formal education requirements for food processing workers, an occupation description that covers a wide range of jobs, including butchers, meat packers, bakers and fish cleaners. On-the-job training is common. Employment opportunities for the foreseeable future are expected to range from a small decline to an increase that is comparable with the national average.

Essential Information

Food processors hold a variety of jobs - most notably butchers, meat packers, bakers and seafood cleaners. The requirements for each role vary slightly, but generally all involve learning the processing type by gaining on-the-job experience under the supervision of an expert.

Required Education No formal education required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% for butchers; -1 to 1% for meat packers; 7% for bakers; -1% to 1% for fish cleaners
Median Salaries (2015)* $29,130 for butchers; $25,650 for meat packers; $24,170 for bakers; $23,870 for fish cleaners annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Overview of a Butcher

Butchers may cut, trim, bone, tie, slice or grind meat for consumption. This includes beef, chicken, lamb, turkey or pork. Butchers often make customer-ordered cuts. While some butchers work with seafood, most work with terrestrial animals.

Career Outlook and Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment of butchers and meat-cutters is expected to grow by 5% - about the same as the average for all occupations - from 2014-2024. This prediction is due to a growing population's desire for ready-cut food combined with greater emphasis on large-scale butchering.

No formal education is needed to become a butcher, as most skills are learned through training on the job. Frequently, cutters work under an experienced meat-cutter and learn the trade. As apprentice butchers learn and experience more, they eventually take on more responsibilities and may gain promotions. Some experienced butchers may even start a privately owned business.

Job Overview of a Meat Packer

Meat packers work in tandem with slaughterhouses; they take a large carcass and cut and trim it into manageable sizes. Unlike butchers who often deal with the public on a face-to-face basis, meat packers generally work in assembly-line plants that quickly process food for a distributor.

Career Outlook and Requirements

Slaughterers and meat packers as a group were expected to show negative to little growth (-1% to 1%) from 2014 to 2024 according to the BLS. The push for more automated meat-packaging plants may be a disruptive force.

Meat-packers do not need a formal education. Generally, packers learn the skills and tools necessary to succeed in the occupation while on the job. Some roles may require computer knowledge due to plants adding automated processes.

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Job Overview of a Baker

Bakers combine ingredients by following a recipe to create a variety of goods including cakes, pastries, breads, rolls and pies. Their employers may have range of educational requirements, ranging from no formal schooling to some college.

Career Outlook and Requirements

According to the BLS, bakers were expected to have a 7% job growth from 2014-2024.

Unlike other food-processing careers, bakers may have wide range of educational requirements. Although no formal education is required, some bakers may complete an apprenticeship program or attend a culinary or technical school. A bakery at a local grocery store may need only a high school diploma or a background in baking. The requirements are mostly arranged around the complexity and responsibility of the baking occupation.

Additionally, bakers may need to be certified. While not all jobs require certification, this merit may contribute to a stronger resume. Retail Bakers of America is one organization that offers certifications depending on baking types and skill levels.

Job Overview of a Fish Cleaner

Fish cleaners generally process fish and other aquatic organisms for human consumption. They focus on filleting, cutting, dicing, de-shelling, slicing, de-scaling and decapitating fish before it is sold. While fish are the main priority, cleaners may also work with shellfish, crustaceans, squid and other edible invertebrates.

Career Outlook and Requirements

The BLS reports that cleaners who work in large processing plants are expected to do better than private processors. Negative to little job growth in this field is predicted from 2014-2024.

No formal education is required, but employers may require fish cleaners to have a high school diploma and learn their skills on-the-job. An expert cleaner often teaches a novice how to properly clean, de-scale and fillet fish per customer request. As fish cleaners gain more experience, they obtain more responsibilities.

On-the-job training and learning is fairly universal in the world of food processing workers, although prospective bakers may complete an apprenticeship or attend a technical or culinary institute. Of the jobs listed, certifications are only available to bakers and may be mandatory. Employment opportunities for bakers and butchers are expected to increase at about the same rate as the national average for all occupations, while those for meat packers and fish cleaners are expected to show little or no increase through 2014.

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