Food is processed in a variety of ways. It can be frozen, canned, baked, dried, cooked, chilled, pasteurised or passed through several of these processes. Food processing is mainly performed by machines in large factories. Food processing operatives are involved in the production and packaging of the food products.
The job typically involves some or all of the following tasks:
In all aspects of the food and drink industry, knowledge of food safety is very important. Food processing operatives need to be aware of the food safety issues appropriate to their role, and be prepared to act if problems arise.
Some smaller or more specialised companies are less automated than the larger food and drink manufacturers. They require a more direct, hands-on approach from the food processing operative. The food still passes through different processes, sometimes on a conveyor belt. The operative has to ensure that each process is completed correctly and consistently.
Full-time food processing operatives usually work 37 to 40 hours a week. They may work a shift system, which could involve evening and weekend work. Overtime is often available.
Most work takes place standing at a production line in a factory. It can be repetitive, and some lifting and bending may be necessary. The temperature in the factory varies according to the processes involved, from baking to freezing.
High standards of hygiene must be observed and workers are usually required to wear protective clothing, such as overalls and headgear.
Starting salaries may be around £11,500 a year.
Food and drink manufacturing is a large industry employing more than 500,000 people in over 30,000 companies. It is an expanding sector so there are good opportunities available throughout the UK.
Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, and at Jobcentre Plus offices and local Connexions centres.
There are no formal educational requirements, although employers may look for basic numeracy and literacy skills. Some jobs may specify a minimum age of 18, depending on shift patterns and the machinery involved.
Some GCSE's/S grades, or equivalent, may be needed to progress into a supervisory role.
Apprenticeships may also be available.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
New employees normally receive on-the-job training. This is likely to cover food safety, and health and safety at work, as well as practical skills.
Employees may also be able to work towards qualifications such as:
NVQ/SVQ in Food and Drink Manufacturing Operations at Levels 1 to 4. Levels 1 and 2 are designed to give processing and packaging workers a range of practical skills. Level 3 includes supervisory and technical skills. Level 4 is a management level qualification.
City & Guilds Certificate in Health and Safety.
BTEC National Certificate in Food Science and Manufacturing Technology.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A food processing operative needs to:
Promotion within companies is common in the food and drink industry. There may be opportunities to progress to supervisory and management positions. Many operations managers began their career as operatives.
There are a variety of food processing companies so operatives may be able to move into different areas of production, including baking, freezing or brewing.
Food and Drink Federation (FDF),
6 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JJ
Tel: 020 7836 2460
Improve Ltd, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Scottish Food and Drink Federation,
4A Torpichen Street, Edinburgh EH3 8JQ
Tel: 0131 229 9415
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.