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Food Manufacturing

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Industry Overview
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.

Food 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

Industry Organization
About 34 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.

Percent distribution of employment and establishments in food manufacturing by detailed industry sector, 2008
Industry segment Employment Establishments
Total 100.0 100.0
 
Animal slaughtering and processing 34.5 14.3
Bakeries and tortilla manufacturing 18.7 40.0
Fruit and vegetable preserving and special food manufacturing 11.9 6.6
Dairy product manufacturing 8.8 6.2
Sugar and confectionary product manufacturing 4.8 7.1
Grain and oilseed milling 4.2 3.3
Animal food manufacturing 3.5 7.0
Seafood product preperation and packaging 2.5 3.0
Other food manufacturing 11.0 12.5
SOURCE: BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 2008

Working Environment 
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 part-time workers.

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.

Because 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 periods.

Employment
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.

Degree Paths into this Industry
Engineers, 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 pathogens.

Industry Forecast
Overall 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.

Food manufacturing 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.

Job 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, prepackaged foods.

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.

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Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 


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