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How to Become a Food Processing Worker

There are no formal education requirements for workers in food processing occupations; workers receive on-the-job training. Butchers usually enter the occupation after getting experience in a position such as a meat cutter in a grocery store or a line worker in a meat processing facility. Food preparation workers may need to be certified by the appropriate governmental agency to ensure conformity with health standards. Education and training for certification will most likely be carried out on the job.


Butchers and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers receive on-the-job training. The length of training varies considerably. Simple cutting operations require a few days to learn. More complicated cutting tasks generally require several months of training. The training period for butchers at the retail level may be 1 or 2 years. Apprentice butchers can spend several years learning the skills and building the strength they need to become fully qualified butchers.

Generally, trainees begin by doing less difficult jobs, such as making simple cuts or removing bones. Under the guidance of experienced workers, trainees learn the proper use and care of tools and equipment while also learning how to prepare various cuts of meat. After demonstrating skill with various meat cutting tools, trainees learn to divide wholesale cuts into retail and individual portions.

Trainees also may learn to roll and tie roasts, prepare sausage, and cure meat. Those employed in retail food establishments often are taught to perform basic business operations, such as inventory control, meat buying, and recordkeeping. In addition, growing concern about foodborne pathogens in meats has led employers to offer numerous seminars and extensive training in food safety to employees.

On-the-job training is common among food and tobacco roasting, baking, and drying machine operators and tenders. These workers learn to run the different types of equipment by watching and helping other workers. Training can last anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the complexity of the tasks and the number of products involved.


Food handlers may need to be certified by an appropriate government agency. Specialized workers, including butchers who follow religious guidelines for food preparation, may be required to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship, certification process, or both before becoming completely qualified and endorsed by an organization to perform their duties.


There are no formal education requirements for workers in food processing occupations. A degree in an appropriate area—dairy science for those working in dairy product operations, for example—can be helpful for advancing to a lead worker or supervisory role.

A bachelor’s or associate’s degree may allow a prospective butcher or manager to enter his or her occupation of choice more easily. There are programs that offer hands-on training cutting meat. There are also degree programs, such as meat merchandising and meat marketing, that are designed specifically for training butchers and meat sellers.

Important Qualities

Concentration. Workers in food processing occupations must be able to pay close attention to what they are doing so that they avoid injury and waste of product.

Coordination. Hand–eye coordination is needed to prepare products safely and in a timely manner.

Customer-service skills. Those who work in retail stores should be able to identify and meet the needs of customers while making them feel comfortable and happy about their purchases.

Listening skills. Workers must pay close attention to directions so they avoid costly mistakes.

Stamina. Workers in this occupation must be physically active for long periods.

Teamwork. Food processing occupations usually require high levels of teamwork, and workers are often closely supported by managerial staff.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition