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What Food Preparation Workers Do About this section

Food preparation workers
Food preparation workers clean and sanitize work areas.

Food preparation workers perform a variety of tasks other than cooking. Their duties include preparing cold foods, slicing meat, peeling and cutting vegetables, brewing coffee or tea, and doing many other food service tasks.

Duties

Food preparation workers typically do the following:

  • Clean and sanitize work areas, equipment, utensils, and dishes
  • Weigh or measure ingredients, such as meats and liquids
  • Prepare fruit and vegetables for cooking
  • Cut meats, poultry, and seafood and prepare them for cooking
  • Mix ingredients for salads
  • Keep food in suitable containers and storage areas to prevent spoilage
  • Take and record the temperature of food and food storage areas
  • Place food trays over food warmers for immediate service

Food preparation workers help cooks and other kitchen staff by preparing ingredients for dishes. Common duties include slicing and dicing fruits, vegetables, and meat; making salads, sandwiches, and other cold food items; and keeping salad bars and buffet tables stocked and clean. They usually work under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Food preparation workers also retrieve pots and pans, clean and store kitchen equipment, and unload and store food supplies. When needed, they retrieve food and equipment for cooks and chefs. In some kitchens, food preparation workers use a variety of commercial kitchen equipment, such as commercial dishwashers, blenders, slicers, or grinders.

In addition, these workers may stock and use soda machines, tea brewers, and coffeemakers to prepare beverages for customers.

Work Environment About this section

Food preparation workers
Food preparation workers wear gloves for safe food handling.

Food preparation workers held about 817,400 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

Restaurants and other eating places 50%
Food and beverage stores 22
Healthcare and social assistance 6
Special food services 5

Food preparation workers held about 886,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of food preparation workers were as follows:

The work is often strenuous. Food preparation workers may stand for hours at a time while cleaning or preparing ingredients. Some are required to move heavy pots or food supplies.

The fast-paced environment in kitchens may be hectic, especially during peak dining hours. Ensuring that dishes are prepared properly and on time may be stressful.

Injuries and Illnesses

Food preparation areas in kitchens have potential safety hazards, such as hot ovens and slippery floors. As a result, food preparation workers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. The most common risks include minor slips, falls, cuts, and burns. To reduce these risks, workers often wear gloves, aprons, and nonslip shoes.

Work Schedules

Part-time work is common for food preparation workers. Work schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays.

Those in school cafeterias may have more regular schedules and may work only during the academic year, usually 9 or 10 months. In establishments that offer seasonal employment, food preparation workers may be hired for only a few months each year.

How to Become a Food Preparation Worker About this section

food preparation workers image
Food preparation workers typically learn their skills on the job from an experienced worker.

Food preparation workers typically do not need a formal educational credential or previous work experience to enter the occupation. They learn their job tasks through on-the-job training.

Education

There typically are no formal education requirements for becoming a food preparation worker. However, employers may require or prefer that candidates have some high school education or a diploma.

Training

Food preparation workers typically get short-term on-the-job training, which usually lasts several weeks. Trainees typically learn basic kitchen duties from an experienced worker. Their training also may include basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations, as well as instructions on how to handle and prepare food.

Advancement

Opportunities for food preparation workers to advance depend on their training and work experience. Food preparation workers may advance to become assistant cooks or line cooks as they learn basic cooking skills.

Important Qualities

Dexterity. Food preparation workers must be able to quickly and safely chop vegetables, cut meat, and perform other tasks with sharp knives.

Interpersonal skills. Food preparation workers must work well with kitchen staff to ensure that dishes are prepared properly and on time.

Listening skills. Food preparation workers must understand customers’ orders and follow directions from cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

Physical stamina. Food preparation workers stand on their feet for long periods while they prepare food, clean work areas, or lift pots from the stove.

Physical strength. Food preparation workers may need to move heavy food supply items and kitchen equipment.

Pay About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Median hourly wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$22.00

Cooks and food preparation workers

$13.99

Food preparation workers

$13.84

 

The median hourly wage for food preparation workers was $13.84 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 $9.39, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $18.30.

In May 2021, the median hourly wages for food preparation workers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Food and beverage stores $14.31
Special food services 13.94
Healthcare and social assistance 13.73
Restaurants and other eating places 13.55

Part-time work is common for food preparation workers. Work schedules may vary to include early mornings, late evenings, weekends, or holidays.

Those in school cafeterias may have more regular hours and may work only during the academic year, usually 9 or 10 months. In establishments that offer seasonal employment, food preparation workers may be hired for only a few months each year.

Job Outlook About this section

Food Preparation Workers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Cooks and food preparation workers

13%

Total, all occupations

5%

Food preparation workers

2%

 

Employment of food preparation workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 145,800 openings for food preparation 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

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession of 2020 and is likely to occur early in the projections decade.

Population and income growth are expected to result in increased consumer demand for prepared food at a variety of dining places, including restaurants and grocery stores, which should create jobs for food preparation workers.

However, some restaurants and cafeterias may customize their food orders from wholesalers and distributors in an effort to lower costs. For example, they may order prewashed, precut, or preseasoned ingredients, which is expected to reduce the need for food preparation workers. Additionally, some establishments prefer to employ fast food and counter workers, who both prepare and serve food to customers, which also may limit employment growth.

Employment projections data for food preparation workers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Food preparation workers

35-2021 817,400 835,100 2 17,700 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about job opportunities, contact local employers and local offices of the state employment service.

For more information about food preparation workers, visit

National Restaurant Association

O*NET

Food Preparation Workers

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