Food Processing Operative

The Job and What's Involved

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:

  • Checking and weighing raw materials.
  • Ensuring that machine settings are correct.
  • Maintaining a clean production environment.
  • Running quality checks on, for example, the size and weight of the finished product.
  • Assembling, packaging and labelling.
  • Simple machine maintenance.

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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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.

Education and Training

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

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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.

Featured Job Guide - Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A food processing operative needs to:

  • Be able to follow written and spoken instructions, and production schedules.
  • Have a good understanding of health and safety requirements.
  • Have good powers of concentration and observation.
  • Be able to pay attention to detail even when tasks are repetitive.
  • Be able to act quickly when a problem arises.
  • Have numeracy and literacy skills.
  • Be able to work as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

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

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources