Workers in the food manufacturing industry link farmers and other
agricultural producers with consumers. They do this by processing raw
fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy products into finished
goods ready for the grocer or wholesaler to sell to households,
restaurants, or institutional food services.
manufacturing workers perform tasks as varied as the many foods we eat.
For example, they slaughter, dress, and cut meat or poultry; process
milk, cheese, and other dairy products; can and preserve fruits,
vegetables, and frozen specialties; manufacture flour, cereal, pet
foods, and other grain mill products; make bread, cookies, cakes, and
other bakery products; manufacture sugar and candy and other
confectionery products; process shortening, margarine, and other fats
and oils; and prepare packaged seafood, coffee, potato and corn chips,
and peanut butter. Although this list is long, it is not exhaustive.
Food manufacturing workers also play a part in delivering numerous other
food products to our tables.
Quality control and
quality assurance are vital to this industry. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service branch oversees
all aspects of food manufacturing. In addition, other food safety
programs have been adopted as issues of chemical and bacterial
contamination and new food-borne pathogens remain a public health
concern. For example, a food safety program called Hazard Analysis and
Critical Control Point focuses on identifying hazards and preventing
them from contaminating food in early stages of meat processing by
applying science-based controls to the testing of food productsófrom
their raw materials to the finished products. The program relies on
individual processing plants developing and implementing safety measures
along with a system to intercept potential contamination points, which
is then subject to USDA inspections
percent of all food manufacturing workers are employed in the animal
slaughtering and processing and another 19 percent work in bakeries and
tortilla manufacturing. Seafood product preparation and packaging
accounts for only 3 percent of all jobs, making it the smallest industry
group in the food manufacturing subsector.
distribution of employment and establishments in food
manufacturing by detailed industry sector, 2008
slaughtering and processing
vegetable preserving and special food manufacturing
confectionary product manufacturing
product preperation and packaging
Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 2008
The average production employee in food manufacturing worked 40.5 hours
a week in 2008, compared with 40.8 hours a week for all manufacturing
workers and 33.6 hours a week for workers in all private industries.
Relatively few workers in manufacturing work part time or are on
variable schedules. However, some food manufacturing operations also
maintain a retail presence and employ a somewhat higher share of
Many production jobs
in food manufacturing involve repetitive, physically demanding work.
Food manufacturing workers are highly susceptible to repetitive-strain
injuries to their hands, wrists, and elbows. This type of injury is
especially common in meat- and poultry-processing plants. Production
workers often stand for long periods and may be required to lift heavy
objects or use cutting, slicing, grinding, and other dangerous tools and
machines. To deal with difficult working conditions and comply with
safety regulations, companies have initiated ergonomic programs to cut
down on work-related accidents and injuries.
In an effort to reduce
occupational hazards, many food manufacturing plants have redesigned
equipment, increased the use of job rotation, allowed longer or more
frequent breaks, and implemented extensive training programs in safe
work practices. Furthermore, meat and poultry plants must comply with a
wide array of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
regulations ensuring a safer work environment. Although injury rates
remain high, safety training seminars and workshops have reduced those
rates. Some workers wear protective hats or masks, gloves, aprons, and
boots. In many companies, uniforms and protective clothing are changed
daily for reasons of sanitation.
of the considerable mechanization in the industry, most food
manufacturing plants are noisy, with limited opportunities for
interaction among workers. In some highly automated plants, "hands-on"
manual work has been replaced by computers and factory automation,
resulting in less waste and higher productivity. Although much of the
basic productionósuch as trimming, chopping, and sortingówill remain
labor intensive for many years to come, automation is increasingly being
applied to various functions, including inventory management, product
movement, and quality control issues such as packing and inspection.
Working conditions also
depend on the type of food being processed. For example, some bakery
employees work at night or on weekends and spend much of their shifts
near ovens that can be uncomfortably hot. In contrast, workers in
dairies and meat-processing plants typically work daylight hours and may
experience cold and damp conditions. Some plants, such as those
producing processed fruits and vegetables, operate on a seasonal basis,
so workers are not guaranteed steady, year-round employment and
occasionally travel from region to region seeking work. These plants are
increasingly rare, however, as the industry continues to diversify and
manufacturing plants produce alternative foods during otherwise inactive
In 2008, the food manufacturing industry provided 1.5 million jobs.
Almost all employees were wage and salary workers; only a few were
self-employed and unpaid family workers. About 28,400 establishments
manufactured food, with 89 percent employing fewer than 100 workers.
Nevertheless, establishments employing 500 or more workers accounted for
36 percent of all jobs.
The employment distribution in this industry varies widely. Animal
slaughtering and processing employs the largest proportion of workers.
Economic changes in livestock farming and slaughtering plants have
changed the industry. Increasingly, fewer farms are producing the vast
majority of livestock in the United States -- although they are larger
farms generally. Similarly, there are now fewer, but much larger,
meat-processing plants, owned by fewer companies -- a development that
has tended to concentrate employment in a few locations.
Food manufacturing workers are found in all States, although some
sectors of the industry are concentrated in certain parts of the
country. For example, in 2007, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, and
Texas employed about 29 percent of all workers in animal slaughtering
and processing, representing a shift in employment from Northern States
to Southern States and from beef and pork processing to poultry
processing. That same year, California and Wisconsin employed 25 percent
of all dairy manufacturing workers; California accounted for 19 percent
of fruit and vegetable canning, pickling, and drying workers.
Paths into this Industry
scientists, and technicians are becoming increasingly important as the
food manufacturing industry implements new automation and food safety
processes. These workers include industrial engineers, who plan
equipment layout and workflow in manufacturing plants, emphasizing
efficiency and safety. Also, mechanical engineers plan, design, and
oversee the installation of tools, equipment, and machines. Chemists
perform tests to develop new products and maintain the quality of
existing products. Computer programmers and systems analysts develop
computer systems and programs to support management and scientific
research. Food scientists and technologists work in research
laboratories or on production lines to develop new products, test
current ones, and control food quality, including minimizing food-borne
wage and salary employment in food manufacturing is expected to
experience no change over the 2008-18 period, compared with 11 percent
employment growth projected for the entire economy. Despite the rising
demand for manufactured food products by a growing population,
automation and increasing productivity are limiting employment growth in
most industry segments. Nevertheless, numerous job openings will arise
within food manufacturing, as experienced workers transfer to other
industries or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
Fierce competition has
led food manufacturing plants to invest in technologically advanced
machinery to become more productive. The new machines have been applied
to tasks as varied as packaging, inspection, and inventory control, but
the processing of animal products remains a labor-intensive activity
that is resistant to automation efforts. As a result, employment will
decrease for some machine operators, such as packaging and filling
machine operators and tenders, while employment growth is expected for
industrial engineers and industrial machinery mechanics, who are
responsible for the design or repair and maintenance of new equipment.
Computers also are being widely implemented throughout the industry,
streamlining administrative functions, but also requiring that all
workers, including production workers, develop technical skills and a
comfort level in reading and understanding digital readouts and
instructions. This will result in decreased employment for
administrative support workers, such as order clerks, but increasing the
demand for production workers, such as food batchmakers who have
excellent technical skills.
firms will be able to use this new automation to better meet the
changing demands of a growing and increasingly diverse population. As
convenience becomes more important, consumers increasingly demand highly
processed foods such as pre-marinated pork loins, peeled and cut
carrots, microwaveable soups, or ready-to-cook dinners. Such a shift in
consumption will contribute to the demand for food manufacturing workers
and will lead to the development of thousands of new processed foods.
Domestic producers also will attempt to market these goods abroad as the
volume of international trade continues to grow. The increasing size and
diversity of the American population has driven demand for a greater
variety of foods, including more ethnic foods. The combination of
expanding export markets and shifting and increasing domestic
consumption will help employment among food processing occupations to
rise over the next decade and will lead to significant changes
throughout the food manufacturing industry.
growth will vary by occupation but will be concentrated among production
occupations -- the largest group of workers in the industry. Because
many of the cutting, chopping, and eviscerating tasks performed by these
workers have proven difficult to automate, employment among handworkers
will rise along with the growing demand for food products. Handworking
occupations include slaughterers and meat packers and meat, poultry, and
fish cutters and trimmers, whose employment will rise as the consumption
of meat, poultry, and fish climbs and as more processing, in the form of
case-ready products, takes place at the manufacturing level. Other
production workers, such as food batchmakers, also will benefit from an
increasing population and increased demand for more convenient,
Unlike many other
industries, food manufacturing is not as sensitive to economic
conditions as other industries. Even during periods of recession, the
demand for food is likely to remain relatively stable and the demand for
processed food may even increase. While factors such as animal diseases,
currency fluctuations, adverse weather, and changing trade agreements
often affect short-term availability of various food products, long-term
availability will remain steady.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.