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Food Canning and Freezing Worker

Food Canning and Freezing Worker

Education and Training: None

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Food canning and freezing workers prepare and package food in cans, glass containers, and cartons. They process fresh food by machine or by hand, prepare the cans, jars, and frozen packages, and fill the containers.

After the raw food is delivered to the food processing plant, washer operators air blast or wash the food. Machines sort the cleaned food by class, size, color, and condition. Hand sorters separate delicate foods such as fruit or asparagus. Hand peelers peel or skin some foods, and hand trimmers cut away waste or trim blemishes from foods. However, machines do a great deal of the food preparation. These machines may core apples or remove pits from peaches. Other machines may cut, dice, halve, seed, or peel the food.

In canning plants workers usually fill the containers with food before the cooking is done. First a conveyor belt carries all jars or cans through a sanitizing washer. Then filling machine operators or hand packers fill the containers with a predetermined volume of food. To be sure that the containers are free of pits, peels, or other unwanted materials, quantity fill inspectors examine sample cans or jars. Finally, double-seamer operators control the machines that seal the containers, and the can inspector checks to see that the sealing is airtight and ready for cooking.

In the cooking process the processor or cooker heats the filled cans in boiling water or under steam pressure. Temperature checkers make sure that the containers are cooled with a cold spray or in a cold-water tank to the right temperature for each type of canned food. Then a machine glues labels on the cans and places them in heavy cartons for delivery to food stores.

In food freezing plants filling machine operators control the machines that open empty waterproof cartons, fill them with food, and close them. Hand packers arrange asparagus, fruit, and other tender foods in containers. Once they fill the cartons, freezing room workers operate a conveyor belt that moves the boxes to machines that wrap and label the sealed cartons. The workers then transport the cartons to freezing tunnels where freezer tunnel operators quick-freeze the foods at thirty to forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Freezing room workers monitor the freezing time and decide when the containers are ready to be packed and stored at zero degrees Fahrenheit until ready for delivery.

Other employees in food canning and freezing plants clean, maintain, and fix equipment. Still others load trucks. The canning industry employs taste testers, quality control specialists, plant supervisors, sanitary engineers, and managerial workers.

Education and Training Requirements

Some food processing plants prefer to hire high school graduates for their production lines. However, most of these jobs do not require any special education. Some plants may require health certification from a licensed physician. Other requisites are good eyesight and manual dexterity to operate machinery and to perform certain jobs by hand. Unskilled or semiskilled workers receive their training on the job.

Getting the Job

Food processing plants accept applications made in person. Newspapers and state employment offices list job openings. The best time to apply for a job at a processing plant is during harvest time.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Generally, there is little opportunity for workers on the production line to advance. In some plants they may become supervisors. Machine operators may be promoted to a job that involves handling more complicated machines. Workers who want to advance to technical and managerial positions will need further education. Most community colleges and technical schools offer training in these fields.

New machines developed for use in the food processing industry will reduce the demand for unskilled or semiskilled workers. Instead, the industry may need skilled machine operators. However, the demand for canned and frozen convenience foods is increasing. As a result, researchers are constantly developing new food products and improving others. This increase in food production may lead to more jobs in administration, operations, sales, food inspection, or other technical positions.

Working Conditions

All food processing plants have strict regulations and regular inspections to see that sanitary conditions, good lighting, and cleanliness requirements are met. They provide special clothing for freezing plant workers who work in rooms with low temperatures. Workers are also exposed to high temperatures and high levels of noise from the machinery. Smaller plants do their canning or freezing only during harvest time and therefore only provide temporary employment. Plants that can fish, meat, or other processed foods throughout the year provide full-time employment. Many workers belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

National Food Processors Association
1350 I St., NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 639-5900

National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association
P.O. Box 6069
4755 Linglestown Rd., Ste. 300
Harrisburg, PA 17112-0069
(717) 657-8601

National Meat Canners Association
1150 Connecticut Ave. NW, 12th floor
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 587-4200

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on experience, skill level, and location of the work. Workers receive an average of $13 per hour, but union members may earn more. Permanent employees generally receive paid sick days, paid vacations, and health insurance.

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