Slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers kill, clean, or prepare animals for sale or further processing. They also cut, prepare, or package meats for wholesale or retail sale.

Duties

Slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers typically do the following:

  • Slaughter animals, cut meat into smaller portions, or package meat
  • Use tools, such as stun guns, saws, or knives, to cut meat
  • Clean, trim, and cut carcasses to prepare them for further processing
  • Lift carcasses onto conveyors and inspect meat for defects
  • Grind, chop, or cut meat into retail sizes and package it for shipping
  • Sharpen knives or blades on cutting equipment
  • Clean and sanitize workspaces and equipment according to industry health standards
  • Weigh and label meat products or packages for processing or sale

Slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers perform various tasks in animal slaughtering and meat processing. They typically work in either slaughtering yards or processing facilities. Workers may rotate through stations, doing different tasks.

Slaughterers may use stun guns or other federally approved means of slaughtering cattle, hogs, or sheep. They skin animals or wash carcasses with hot water to get the meat ready for further processing.

Workers also use power saws for cutting carcasses into manageable pieces of meat, known as boxed meat or case-ready meat, suitable for sale to wholesalers or retailers. Workers may be assigned to do routine cuts on meat as it moves along production lines.

Some workers prepare ready-to-eat, partially cooked, or display-ready packages of meat products for sale in retail stores. This preparation often involves filleting meat, poultry, or fish; cutting it into retail-size pieces; and adding vegetables, flavorings, or breading.

In processing plants, workers may produce hamburger meat, sausages, luncheon meats, or other fabricated meat products.

Fish cutters and trimmers remove inedible parts of the fish, cut the fish into steaks or fillets, and package fish.

Depending on the type of cut or task they are assigned on the production line, workers use knives for deboning, grinders for grinding meat, or handsaws to cut meat. They also may operate wrapping machines to package the meat.

The following are examples of types of slaughterers, meat packers, meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers:

Poultry eviscerators clean birds so that the meat can be used for various products.

Fish filleters use sharp knives and precise cuts to separate fillets of fish from the bones.

Oyster shuckers and shrimp pickers separate the flesh of oysters and shrimp from the shells for packaging and wholesale or retail sale.

Some types of slaughterers follow religious specifications. For example, halal and kosher slaughterers follow strict guidelines during the slaughtering process in order to make sure that the product can qualify for religious specifications of what is permissible to eat.

Work Environment: 

In 2012, slaughterers and meat packers held about 80,700 jobs, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers held about 163,400 jobs. Most workers were employed in animal slaughtering and processing facilities.

The working conditions in most processing facilities are physically demanding and often very difficult.

Workers are usually exposed to hot or cold temperatures. For example, the slaughtering rooms can be very hot and humid, as workers use steam or hot water—often at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit—for cleaning equipment used in slaughtering. Also, meat-packing areas are kept at lower temperatures—often below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for safe meat handling.

Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers in the meat-processing industry may work on an assembly line and do one specific function—a single repetitive cut— during their shift. However, they often rotate between stations.

Slaughterers may work on mobile slaughtering trucks that travel to where the livestock are, such as on farms or ranches. There, they slaughter the animals on site.

Some fish processing is done aboard ships, where workers process, package, and flash freeze fish to preserve their freshness.

Injuries and Illnesses

Slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers use dangerous equipment, such as saws and knives, and are commonly exposed to animal waste.

In addition, processing plant floors are often slippery, causing workers to fall. To reduce risks, workers must wear protective clothing, such as cut-resistant gloves, hardhats, face shields, and nonslip footwear.

Work Schedules

Most slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers work full time. Shift work is common in processing facilities, with assignments based on seniority. Shifts may include early morning, late evening, or night hours.

Education and Training: 

Workers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education is required.

Education

There are no formal education requirements for someone to become a slaughterer, meat packer, or meat, poultry, and fish cutter and trimmer.

Training

Most slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, which usually lasts a few weeks. Training typically includes basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations. Trainees usually start by working under the supervision of an experienced worker and learn basic duties such as knife skills. They also receive instructions on safe meat handling and on the use and maintenance of their equipment.

Advancement

Advancement opportunities for slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers depend on their training and work experience. However, some workers may advance to become butchers after they spend years working in meat processing, learning various cutting techniques.

Important Qualities

Concentration. Workers must pay close attention when using sharp knives or cutting equipment in order to avoid injuries.

Coordination. Good hand–eye coordination is important for workers as they must quickly cut or package meat in order to keep up with the conveyor line.

Detail oriented. Workers must be able to see and cut small portions of fat, bone, or cartilage according to specifications.

Dexterity. Workers need good manual dexterity, including proper knife techniques for trimming the inedible parts of meat and for filleting the meat.

Physical stamina. Workers stay on their feet for long periods doing repetitive cutting, stretching their arms to cut meat on a conveyor, or moving packages of meat.

Physical strength. Workers should be strong enough to lift or move heavy carcasses or boxes of packaged meat, which often can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for slaughterers and meat packers was $24,330 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 $18,210, and the top 10 percent earned more than $32,670.

The median annual wage for meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers was $22,830 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,380, and the top 10 percent earned more than $30,690.

Most slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers work full time. Shift work is common in processing facilities, with assignments based on seniority. Shifts may include early morning, late evening, or night hours.

Job Outlook: 

Overall employment of slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary by specialty.

Employment of slaughterers and meat packers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Slaughtering and processing companies continue to consolidate their facilities and streamline production processes, which will limit the need for slaughterers and meat packers.

Employment of meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. As more people buy case-ready, prepared, or partially prepared meat products, there should be a need for these workers.

Although processing facilities increasingly are using automation to raise productivity and efficiency, workers will continue to be needed to perform some functions of slaughtering, skinning, or cutting that is otherwise difficult to automate.

Job Prospects

Despite slow employment growth, job opportunities for slaughterers, meat packers, and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers should be very good because of the need to replace the large number of workers who leave the occupation each year. Working conditions in most processing facilities are physically demanding and often very difficult and unpleasant, resulting in high job turnover.

As the animal slaughtering and processing industry continues to consolidate, most jobs are in areas where there are large processing facilities. The majority of large meat-packing plants are located in the Midwestern and High Plains regions of the country. The five states with the largest number of slaughterers and meat packers are Texas, North Carolina, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Processing facilities often are located in rural areas or near smaller cities.

For More Information: 

For training information regarding line workers and food safety, visit

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

For information about the meat-processing industry and related trends, visit

American Meat Institute

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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