Meat process workers are employed to prepare meat and meat products for sale to retailers, wholesalers and meat product manufacturers. They work on the carcasses of slaughtered livestock, using knives or machinery to carry out various procedures.
A meat process worker's duties vary depending on the nature of the job. They may work in:
Abattoirs - hanging carcasses on overhead rails before skinning, eviscerating (gutting) and cutting them into sides and quarters.
Wholesale meat factories - cutting, de-boning and preparing carcasses before they are sold to butchers' shops, supermarkets and other meat manufacturers.
Catering butchers - where they specialise in preparing pre-packed meals for the hotel and catering sector, and may have to produce very precise cuts, weights or portions of meat.
Meat manufacturing plants - tasks are varied in this environment and can range from animal slaughter to producing a variety of meat products, for example burgers or pies.
As well as the various tasks related to cutting and preparing the meat, meat process workers may also be involved in grading and packing the meat.
There is very strict government legislation around meat production. This is to ensure that public health is protected from contamination and disease. Meat process workers have to be very aware of health and safety regulations, and make sure they maintain cleanliness, hygiene and food safety at all times.
Meat process workers usually work around 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. In some areas shift work may be required, including weekends. It may be possible to work part time.
Meat process workers may be based on a production line, using a variety of knives and blades to cut, de-bone and trim meat. Other areas are more automated, with noisy and potentially dangerous machinery. Workers may also spend some time working in cool or chilled rooms.
The job involves a lot of standing and stretching, as well as lifting and moving of carcasses of varying sizes and weights. As a result, it is a physically demanding job. Although conditions are generally light and airy, there is usually a strong smell of raw meat.
Meat process operatives wear protective clothing such as overalls, hats, gloves, hairnets, rubber boots and sometimes ear defenders. Special clothing is provided for working in cool areas.
The starting salary for a meat process worker may be around £9,600 a year.
There are around 100,000 meat process workers in the UK. Most work for large producers of meat products. Others work for abattoirs, meat wholesalers or specialist smaller companies producing products such as pâté or smoked meats.
Opportunities are available throughout the UK, but are particularly concentrated in East England, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside. There are usually more vacancies than applicants.
Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres, or in periodicals such as the Meat Trades Journal, Meat and Poultry News, Food Trader for Butchers and Food Manufacture. Vacancies may also be advertised on specialist websites such as www.foodmanjobs.co.uk.
No formal qualifications are needed to become a meat process worker. However, GCSE's/S grades can be helpful for people who aim to progress to supervisory or technical levels.
There are a number of qualifications that are suitable for those considering a career in the meat processing industry. These can include both specialist meat production and broader food production courses. They range from one-day introductory courses in meat and meat product regulations, to part-time or full-time Meat Training Council (MTC) courses at colleges of further education. It may also be possible to enter the industry through an Apprenticeship.
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.
Most training is on the job, starting as a trainee meat process worker and working towards relevant qualifications such as an NVQ/SVQ in Meat and Poultry Processing at Level 1 or 2.
The MTC offers a number of similarly graded qualifications, including the:
Health and safety, hygiene, quality assurance and teamwork are an integral part of training on the job.
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.
Meat process workers must:
Progression is to supervisory and management positions. The MTC's Management Development Programme in Meat and Poultry can help meat process workers progressing to these roles. The MTC also offers further qualifications for more senior positions.
With these qualifications, it is possible to become an associate or graduate member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers.
After further training and licensing by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), meat process workers may also be employed as slaughtermen/women in abattoirs.
Some people working in the meat production industry train to be a meat hygiene inspector. Others move into related food and drink areas such as quality control, product development or food marketing. They may also move into retail butchery.
British Meat Processors Association,
12 Cock Lane, London EC1A 9BU
Tel: 020 7329 0776
Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Customer Contact Unit, Eastbury House,
30-34 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TL
Tel: 08459 335577
Improve Ltd, Ground Floor, Providence House,
2 Innovation Close, Heslington, York YO10 5ZF
Tel: 0845 644 0448
Meat Hygiene Service, MHS Headquarters,
Kings Pool, Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PR
Tel: 01904 455501
Meat Training Council (MTC),
PO Box 141, Winterhill House,
Snowdon Drive, Milton Keynes MK6 1YY
Tel: 01908 231062
Scottish Federation of Meat Traders,
8-10 Needless Road, Perth PH2 0JW
Tel: 01738 637472
Scottish Meat Training,
8-10 Needless Road, Perth PH2 0JW
Tel: 01738 637785
The Worshipful Company of Butchers,
Butchers' Hall, 87 Bartholomew Close,
London EC1A 7EB
Tel: 020 7606 4106
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.