Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Food and Tobacco Processing Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

Food and tobacco processing workers typically do the following:

  • Set up, start, or 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 processes
  • Observe and regulate equipment gauges and controls
  • Report equipment malfunctions to team leaders or maintenance staff
  • Clean workspaces and equipment in accordance with health and safety standards
  • Check final products to ensure quality

Food and tobacco processing workers often have different duties depending on the type of machinery they use or goods they process.

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders operate machines that produce roasted, baked, or dried food or tobacco products. For example, dryers of fruits and vegetables operate machines that produce raisins, prunes, or other dehydrated foods. Tobacco roasters tend machines that cure tobacco for wholesale distribution to cigarette manufacturers and other makers of tobacco products. Others, such as coffee roasters, follow recipes and tend machines to produce standard or specialty coffees.

Food batchmakers typically work in facilities that produce baked goods, pasta, and tortillas. Workers mix ingredients to make dough, load and unload ovens, operate pasta extruders, and perform tasks specific to large-scale commercial baking. Some workers are identified by the type of food they produce. For example, those who prepare cheese are known as cheese makers and those who make candy are known as candy makers.

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 manufacturing workers operate baking and frying equipment. Sugar and confectionary manufacturers use equipment that blends, heats, coats, and packages candies, chocolates, or other sweets.

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

Work Environment for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Food and tobacco processing workers held about 223,000 jobs in 2014 and mostly worked in food manufacturing facilities.

The industries that employed the most food and tobacco processing workers in 2014 were as follows:

Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing 16%
Animal slaughtering and processing 15
Other food manufacturing 13
Fruit and vegetable preserving and specialty food manufacturing 11
Dairy product manufacturing 9

Food manufacturing facilities are typically large, open floor areas with loud machinery, requiring workers to wear ear protection to guard against noise. Workers 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.

Depending on the type of food or tobacco being processed, workers may be required to wear masks, hair nets, or gloves to protect the product from possible contamination.

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

Workers on assembly lines 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 the risks of injuries, workers are required to wear protective clothing and nonslip shoes.

Food and Tobacco Processing Worker Work Schedules

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

Some food processing facilities are seasonal and open only a few months a year. During this period, facilities may operate 24 hours a day and require workers to work one of the various shifts.

How to Become a Food or Tobacco Processing Worker[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers near you!

There are no formal education requirements for some food and tobacco processing workers. However, 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.

Food and Tobacco Processing Worker Education

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.

Food and Tobacco Processing Worker Training

Food and tobacco processing 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 or tobacco that they process. Training also involves learning how to operate specific equipment, following safety procedures, and reporting equipment malfunctions.

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

Important Qualities for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

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 they quality or quantity of food products. They must also closely follow health and safety standards to avoid food contamination and injury.

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 ingredients, which often can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Food and Tobacco Processing Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for food and tobacco processing workers was $26,350 in May 2015. 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 $18,700, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $43,400.

Median annual wages for food and tobacco processing workers in May 2015 were as follows:

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders $28,060
Food cooking machine operators and tenders 27,760
Food batchmakers 26,950
Food processing workers, all other 23,720

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 are seasonal and open only a few months a year. During this period facilities may operate 24 hours a day and require workers to work one of the various shifts.

Job Outlook for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of food and tobacco processing workers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations.

Population growth and continuing consumer preference for convenience foods are expected to drive employment of these workers, particularly in retail trade establishments, such as grocery or specialty food stores.

Food manufacturing companies increasingly are using automation to raise productivity. For example, they use equipment that automatically weighs and mixes ingredients, requiring fewer processing workers. As these companies further consolidate their facilities and streamline production processes, they will need fewer workers to operate machines.

Food and Tobacco Processing Workers Job Prospects

The need to replace food and tobacco processing workers who leave the occupation should 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 large food processing facilities, which are commonly located in rural areas or near smaller cities.

Employment projections data for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Food and tobacco processing workers 222,900 226,400 2 3,500
  Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders 18,500 18,700 1 200
  Food batchmakers 122,500 122,000 0 -500
  Food cooking machine operators and tenders 37,500 38,000 1 500
  Food processing workers, all other 44,400 47,700 7 3,300


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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