Food Manufacturing

Significant Points

•    Food manufacturing has one of the highest incidences of injury and illness among all industries; seafood product preparation and packaging and dairy product manufacturing have the highest incidence of injury and illness among all food manufacturing industries.
•    Production workers account for 54 percent of all jobs.
•    Most production jobs require little formal education or training; many can be learned in a few days.
•    Unlike many other industries, food manufacturing is not highly sensitive to economic conditions.

Nature of the Industry

Goods and services. 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 products—from 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.
Working Conditions

Hours. 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.

Work environment. 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 2007, rates of work-related injury or illness for full-time food manufacturing workers were higher than the rates for all of manufacturing and for the private sector as a whole. Injury rates, however, varied significantly among specific food manufacturing industries—ranging from rate lower than the manufacturing average for workers in bakery and tortilla manufacturing to higher rates in seafood product preparation and packaging and in dairy manufacturing, which were among the highest rates for all private industries.

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 production—such as trimming, chopping, and sorting—will 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.

Source: bls.gov, mediaclubsouthafrica.com

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