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
  • Record batch production data
  • 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, potato and corn chip manufacturing workers operate baking and frying equipment.

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 hold about 257,400 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up food and tobacco processing workers was distributed as follows:

Food batchmakers 153,700
Food processing workers, all other 46,400
Food cooking machine operators and tenders 37,200
Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders 20,100

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

Food manufacturing 74%
Wholesale trade 5
Food and beverage stores 5
General merchandise stores 4
Employment services 4

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.

Injuries and Illnesses for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

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

Food and Tobacco Processing Work Schedules

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

Some food processing positions are seasonal.

How to Become a Food and 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.

Education for 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, 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 teach trainees how to properly use and care for equipment.

Important Qualities for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

Detail oriented. Workers must be able to detect small changes in the 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 may weigh up to 50 pounds.

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

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 is $27,110. 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 $19,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $44,730.

Median annual wages for food and tobacco processing workers are as follows:

Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders $28,570
Food cooking machine operators and tenders 28,350
Food batchmakers 27,810
Food processing workers, all other 24,160

The median annual wages for food and tobacco processing workers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Food manufacturing $28,380
Wholesale trade 24,510
Food and beverage stores 24,180
General merchandise stores 23,820
Employment services 21,490

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

Some food processing positions are seasonal.

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

Overall employment of food and tobacco processing workers is projected to grow 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Population growth and continuing consumer preference for convenience foods are expected to drive the demand for food, which will in turn require more food and tobacco processing 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.

Job Prospects for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

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 likely have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Food and Tobacco Processing Workers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Food and tobacco processing workers 257,400 263,800 2 6,400
  Food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders 20,100 19,900 -1 -200
  Food batchmakers 153,700 156,400 2 2,600
  Food cooking machine operators and tenders 37,200 38,100 3 900
  Food processing workers, all other 46,400 49,400 7 3,000


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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