From farm to table: Surprising facts about food processing

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When you think about how your dinner reaches the table, you probably picture the farmer who raised the vegetables, the baker who kneaded the dough and animals that produced the milk and eggs. Farming isn't a side of the food industry that everyone sees regularly, but it's one many people are familiar with – from a young age, children are taught about farming and gardening. And at the other end of the spectrum, most people are very familiar with the grocery store. You walk in, grab the items you need, maybe get something special from the deli counter and then head home. But there's a middle section that gets perhaps even less attention than these – the food processing plant.

Every packaged item you eat has to be processed between the farm and the store. Peanuts are turned to peanut butter, which is packaged in plastic jars and labeled before it gets shipped around the world. This process is taken for granted, unless there happens to be an evening news story about a factory mistake or accident. And yet, when the plants are running smoothly, many American's don't give this industry much thought. As of 2014, the industry supported over 223,000 jobs across America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and each of those workers is responsible for getting safe-to-eat food to the tables of millions of Americans each year.

The responsibilities of a food processing worker
There are many jobs within the food processing industry, but each works together to create products that people will enjoy eating. For instance, higher level jobs include food scientists and designers who create new products. It's the job of plant workers to actually produce these products, test them, and get them out to market. From there, an advertising team works to sell the products and make them appealing to a wide audience. Each of these roles is important, but it is the hard working men and women in the plant that perhaps deserve the most credit.

According to Job Awareness, these workers are not only responsible for ensuring the assembly lines work properly, but they must also be vigilant about minimizing risk and preventing accidents before they happen. Therefore, they must be well versed in many FDA and OSHA guidelines concerning food safety. And of course they have to do all of this while standing on their feet for several hours at a time. Workers at a food processing plant must wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes, lest they experience pain or other chronic issues. Safety shoes that are snug but not too tight are the best option.

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Types of food processing jobs
Food processing is something that doesn't fit into an easy category – of course all food processing plants are about creating food, but the variety means that one worker will not have the same experience as the next. Someone working in a plant that processes fish is going to have different responsibilities than someone who works in a candy factory, for instance.

Plants that process meat products are always open to challenges and controversy. But even leaving the controversy alone, it is easy to see how the technical side of the job could be a challenge. Food Processing magazine reported that while meat processing and packaging is a lucrative industry, it can be easily disrupted by animal illnesses or scarcity. Those interested in finding solutions to complex problems may be particularly well suited to this job.

In the end, working in a food processing plant means having a thorough knowledge of food safety and mechanical safety practices. It can be a hard and physically demanding job, but rewarding because you know you're helping to feed the country.

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