Food Processing Technician
Food Processing Technician
Education and Training: Two-year college
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
About three-fourths of the food sold in stores in this country has been processed or cooked to some extent before the consumer buys it. Food processing plants employ food processing technicians, who work in laboratories and as salespeople. Food processing technicians also work as inspectors for state and federal agencies that regulate the food processing industry.
Technicians in laboratories help with quality control testing or research. They usually work under the direction of food scientists who plan experiments or supervise laboratory operations. Technicians must keep records, fill out forms, and write reports. Food processing technicians may run tests designed to check for bacteria, impurities, or poisons in processed foods. Often they use instruments that check the quality of food, including its taste, smell, and color. Technicians use standard laboratory equipment, including test tubes, flasks, scales, and balances. They may also monitor dials and gauges and use microscopes. Sometimes they use specialized equipment. There is, for example, a machine that measures the amount of juice in turkey meat.
Some food processing technicians work as production supervisors and managers. They supervise workers or operate machinery. In some dairy plants, for example, a single technician can run the entire plant by reading dials and watching machinery on closed-circuit television. Technicians in large plants are responsible for spot checks on equipment and products. For example, they may make sure that vegetables are heated to the proper temperature before they are canned.
Some food processing technicians are inspectors for federal and state government agencies. Their job is to make sure that laws concerning food quality and handling are followed. Inspectors visit food processing companies to make sure that plants are safe and clean. Some inspectors run laboratory tests. Inspectors usually write reports on their findings, and they may have to appear at government hearings. They usually specialize in one area, such as fruits and vegetables or meat products. Many inspectors work for agencies that regulate the dairy industry.
Education and Training Requirements
It is possible to become a food processing technician through on-the-job training. Most employers, however, prefer to hire beginners who have some college or technical training in food processing, laboratory science, or related fields. Some two-year colleges and technical schools offer programs leading to an associate degree. Basic courses can be taken in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and food processing. Courses in nutrition, microbiology, and the use of food processing equipment offer good preparation. Courses are also available in specialized areas of food processing, such as dairy manufacturing and vegetable processing. Many two-year programs include supervised work experiences that give students a chance to apply their knowledge and learn new skills.
Getting the Job
School work-study programs are a good source of contacts that may lead to a full-time job. Instructors and placement offices at schools with programs in food processing may be able to help candidates get a job as a technician. Some food processing companies send recruiters to these schools to find qualified technicians. They may advertise for technicians in newspaper want ads. Prospective food processing technicians can also apply directly to companies in the food processing industry. If working for a government agency is preferable, candidates may apply to take the necessary civil service test.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
As they gain experience, food processing technicians can qualify for jobs that bring higher pay and more responsibility. With further education they may become food scientists or food technologists. A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement for these high-level jobs.
The employment outlook for technicians with college or technical training is expected to be good through the year 2012. Many technicians will be needed for laboratory positions in quality control and research.
Technicians who work in quality control laboratories usually work thirty-five to forty hours a week. They work in small groups with other technicians and scientists. They operate delicate instruments and must keep accurate records. Technicians may do the same kind of routine work every day. Those who assist in production usually work in clean, well-lighted plants. They may work night shifts and weekends.
Government inspectors usually travel from their headquarters to food processing plants. Although they work an average of forty hours a week, their hours are often irregular.
Where to Go for More Information
Institute of Food Technologists
525 W. Van Buren, Ste. 1000
Chicago, IL 60607
National Food Processors Association
1350 I St. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20005-5963
National Prepared Food Association
485 Kinderkamack Rd., Second Fl.
Oradell, NJ 07649
Earnings and Benefits
The salary for food processing technicians varies according to skill, experience, and level of education, but ranges from $25,000 to $35,000 per year. Benefits generally include health insurance, paid vacations and holidays, and pension plans.