Food and tobacco processing workers operate equipment that mixes, cooks, or processes ingredients used in the manufacturing of food or tobacco products.

Duties

Food and tobacco processing workers typically do the following:

  • Set up, start, and load food or tobacco processing equipment
  • Check, weigh, and mix ingredients according to recipes
  • Set and control temperatures, flow rates, and pressures of machinery
  • Monitor and adjust ingredient mixes during production process
  • Observe and regulate equipment gauges and sensors
  • Report equipment malfunctions to team leaders or maintenance staff
  • Clean workspaces and equipment to meet health and safety standards
  • Check final products to ensure quality

Depending on what type of food and tobacco is being processed or made, these workers often have different duties.

The following are examples of types of food and tobacco processing workers:

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders operate machines that produce roasted, baked, or dried food or tobacco products. The following are examples of types of these workers:

  • Coffee roasters follow recipes to produce standard or specialty coffees.
  • Tobacco roasters tend machines that cure tobacco for wholesale distribution to cigarette manufacturers and other makers of tobacco products.
  • Dryers of fruits and vegetables operate machines that produce raisins, prunes, or other dehydrated foods.

Food batchmakers typically work in facilities that produce baked goods, pasta, and tortillas. Workers mix ingredients to make dough, load and unload ovens, operate noodle extruders, and perform 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 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 equipment that blends, heats, coats, and packages candies, chocolates, doughnuts, or other sweets.

Other workers may operate equipment that mixes spices for meat products, mills grains, or extracts oil from seeds.

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Work Environment

Food and tobacco processing workers held about 198,300 jobs in 2012 and mostly worked in food manufacturing facilities.

The industries that employed the most food and tobacco processing workers in 2012 were as follows:

Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing 16%
Animal slaughtering and processing 15
Fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing 11
Other food manufacturing 11
Dairy product manufacturing 9

Food manufacturing facilities are typically large, open floor areas, and filled with noisy machinery. Workers also are frequently exposed to high temperatures when working around cooking machinery. Some work in cold environments for long periods with goods that need to be refrigerated or frozen.

Workers usually stand for the majority of their shifts while tending machines or observing the production process. Their equipment is often large, and loading, unloading, or cleaning it may require heavy lifting, bending, and reaching.

Because the work is typically on assembly lines, workers must be able to keep up with the line speed while maintaining product quality.

Injuries and Illnesses

Working around hot liquids or machinery that cuts or presses can be dangerous. The most common hazards are slips, falls, or cuts. To reduce these risks, workers are required to wear protective clothing and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Most food and tobacco processing workers are employed full time. Because of production schedules, working early morning, evening, or night shifts is common in many manufacturing facilities.

Some food processing facilities offer only seasonal jobs.

Education and Training

Although no formal education is required for some food and tobacco processing workers, food batchmakers and food cooking machine operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Food and tobacco processing workers learn their skills through on-the-job training.

Education

Although no formal education is required for some food and tobacco processing workers, food batchmakers and food cooking machine operators typically need a high school diploma or equivalent.

Because workers often adjust the quantity of ingredients that go into a mix, basic math and reading skills are considered helpful.

Training

Food and tobacco processing workers learn on the job. Training may last from several weeks to a few months. During training, they learn health and safety rules related to the type of food or tobacco that is processed. Training also involves learning how to operate specific equipment, follow safety procedures, and report equipment malfunction.

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

Personality and Interests

Food and tobacco processing workers typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a food and tobacco processing worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Food and tobacco processing workers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Concentration. Workers must pay close attention to what they are doing to avoid injury.

Coordination. Food and tobacco processing workers must be quick and have good hand-eye coordination to keep up with the assembly line.

Detail oriented. Workers must be able to detect small changes in quality or quantity of food products. They must also closely follow health and safety standards to avoid any food contamination.

Physical stamina. Workers stand on their feet for long periods as they tend machines and monitor the production process.

Physical strength. Food and tobacco processing workers should be strong enough to lift or move heavy boxes of fruit or vegetables, which often can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Pay

The median annual wage for food and tobacco processing workers was $25,780 in May 2012. 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 $17,780, and the top 10 percent earned more than $41,930.

The median annual wages for food and tobacco processing workers in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $28,430 for food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders
  • $26,550 for food batchmakers
  • $26,350 for food cooking machines operators and tenders
  • $23,140 for food processing workers, all other

Most food and tobacco processing workers are employed full time. Because of production schedules, working early morning, evening, or night shifts is common in many manufacturing facilities.

Some food processing facilities offer only seasonal jobs.

Job Outlook

Employment of food and tobacco processing workers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.

Population growth and consumer preference for convenience foods and tobacco will maintain demand for these workers.

However, food manufacturing companies increasingly use automation to raise productivity. As these companies further consolidate their facilities and streamline production processes, fewer workers will be needed to operate machines.

Job Prospects

The need to replace food and tobacco processing workers who leave the occupation will result in many job openings each year. Those with related work experience in manufacturing will have the best job opportunities.

The food processing industry continues to consolidate. As a result, job prospects should be best in rural areas or near smaller cities where many large food processing facilities are located.

For More Information

For more information about line workers and food safety, visit

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

For more information about the food industry, visit

Food Engineering

Grocery Manufacturers Association

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).