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What Food Processing Equipment Workers Do About this section

Food and tobacco processing workers
A food batchmaker stirs curd to make cheese.

Food processing equipment workers operate machinery that mixes, cooks, or processes ingredients for manufacturing food products.

Duties

Food processing equipment workers typically do the following:

  • Set up, start, or load food 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 processes
  • Observe and regulate equipment gauges and controls
  • Record batch production data
  • Clean workspaces and equipment according to health and safety standards
  • Check final products to ensure quality

Food processing equipment workers often have different duties depending on the type of machinery they use or the goods they process. Job titles may be specific to the type of food workers produce.

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders run equipment that uses dry heat to make food or tobacco products. For example, coffee roasters follow recipes and tend machines to produce standard or specialty coffees; dryers of fruits and vegetables operate machines that produce raisins, prunes, and other dehydrated foods.

Food batchmakers operate equipment that mixes or blends ingredients to produce shelf-stable, refrigerated, or frozen foods. For example, cheese makers load raw ingredients into machinery, monitoring the temperature and consistency throughout the production process; candy makers may operate machinery to shape, stretch, or mold lollipops, gumdrops, and other sweets.

Food cooking machine operators and tenders oversee equipment that makes steamed, fried, boiled, or related food products. For example, dumpling machine operators set up and monitor commercial steamers and potato chip manufacturing workers may operate frying equipment.

Other food processing equipment workers operate machines that mix spices, mill grains, or extract oil from seeds.

Work Environment About this section

Food and tobacco processing workers
Food processing workers often work on a production line and stand most of the time.

Food and tobacco processing workers held about 250,100 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and tobacco processing workers was distributed as follows:

Food batchmakers 159,300
Food processing workers, all other 45,000
Food cooking machine operators and tenders 26,800
Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders 19,000

The largest employers of food and tobacco processing workers were as follows:

Food manufacturing 74%
Employment services 6
Food and beverage stores 5

Food manufacturing facilities are typically large, open-floor areas with loud machinery. When operating cooking equipment, workers are frequently exposed to high temperatures. When working with goods that need to be refrigerated or frozen, they may be exposed to cold temperatures for long periods.

Depending on the type of food being processed, workers may be required to wear ear protection to guard against hearing loss in noisy facilities. They also may wear masks, hairnets, or gloves to prevent product contamination.

Workers usually stand during their shifts while tending machines or observing the production process. Loading, unloading, or cleaning equipment may require lifting, bending, and reaching.

Injuries and Illnesses                         

Food processing workers, all other, have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. ("All other" titles represent occupations with a wide range of characteristics that do not fit into any of the other detailed occupations.) Working around hot liquids or machinery that cuts or presses can be dangerous. Common injuries include cuts or result from slips and falls.. To reduce the risks of injuries, workers are required to wear protective clothing and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Most food processing equipment workers are employed full time; part-time work may be common for food cooking machine operators and tenders. Because of production schedules, shift work is common and may include early mornings, evenings, or nights.

Some food processing positions are seasonal.

How to Become a Food Processing Equipment Worker About this section

food and tobacco processing workers image
Experienced workers show trainees how to properly use equipment.

Education requirements vary for food processing equipment workers. Some typically need no formal education credential; however, others typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Food processing equipment workers usually learn their skills through on-the-job training.

Education

Employers may require or prefer that applicants to food processing equipment jobs have a high school diploma or equivalent.

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

Training

Food processing equipment workers learn on the job. Training may last from a few weeks to a few months. During training, workers learn health and safety rules related to the type of food that they process, as well as how to operate specific equipment and detect malfunctions.

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

Important Qualities

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

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

Physical strength. Food processing equipment workers must be able to lift or move heavy boxes of ingredients, which may weigh up to 50 pounds.

Math skills. Workers may need math skills in order to accurately mix specific quantities of ingredients.

Pay About this section

Food Processing Equipment Workers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Production occupations

$37,710

Food and tobacco processing workers

$35,430

 

The median annual wage for food processing equipment workers was $35,430 in May 2021. 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 $23,790, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,700.

Median annual wages for food processing equipment workers in May 2021 were as follows:

Food cooking machine operators and tenders $35,890
Food batchmakers 35,780
Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders 35,480
Food processing workers, all other 31,890

In May 2021, the median annual wages for food and tobacco processing workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Food manufacturing $36,260
Food and beverage stores 30,140
Employment services 29,560

Most food processing equipment workers are employed full time; part-time work may be common for food cooking machine operators and tenders. Because of production schedules, shift work is common and may include early mornings, evenings, or nights.

Some food processing positions are seasonal.

Job Outlook About this section

Food Processing Equipment Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Food and tobacco processing workers

5%

Production occupations

0%

 

Overall employment of food processing equipment workers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 32,600 openings for food processing equipment workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Population growth and continuing consumer preference for convenience foods are expected to drive the demand for food, which will in turn require more food processing equipment workers to produce it. However, food manufacturing companies continue to pursue more automation in processing to raise productivity. For example, they use equipment that automatically weighs and mixes ingredients, requiring fewer processing workers. As these companies streamline production processes and implement more automation, they will need fewer workers to operate machines, and this may constrain occupational growth.

Employment projections data for food processing equipment workers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Food and tobacco processing workers

250,100 263,000 5 12,900

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders

51-3091 19,000 19,900 4 800 Get data

Food batchmakers

51-3092 159,300 168,300 6 8,900 Get data

Food cooking machine operators and tenders

51-3093 26,800 28,200 5 1,400 Get data

Food processing workers, all other

51-3099 45,000 46,700 4 1,700 Get data

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