Food preparer, or a food handler, ranked 5th on a list of the eight lowest-paying jobs in America. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,330 annually as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, food handling is how people with no experience usually get started in restaurant work. And you can learn a lot about the food industry starting out in this field.
Customer Service Duties
As a food handler, you may work in a restaurant, hotel, cafeteria, hospital or grocery store. Most of your time is spent cutting or grinding meats, weighing ingredients such as cheeses and tomatoes, preparing salads and frying side dishes such as french fries. You also clean and sanitize work counters, utensils, dishes and pans. Some food handling is done before customers arrive, such as stocking bins or steam cabinets before busy days. After shifts, items are usually stored in refrigerators or freezers.
Some food handlers work as supervisors. If you hold such a position, you may train others on restaurant or store policies. Other responsibilities include ensuring enough food is prepared to meet customer demand, and measuring temperatures of meats, steam cabinets and walk-in refrigerators. This ensures that meats, for example, are served at proper temperatures, preserving food quality and preventing any foodborne illnesses. Some days, you may break up the monotony by counting inventory for managers, verifying the accuracy of incoming shipments and assisting with detailed cleaning. For example, hood ranges, walls and baseboards need periodic cleaning.
Twenty-five percent of food handlers work in full-service restaurants, according to the BLS. Wherever you work, expect to spend hours on your feet, working weekdays, evenings or weekends. Shifts can vary according to when the manager needs you. It can also get hot working in kitchens or behind counters, and you may be required to wear a hairnet, apron and gloves.
Education and Training
There are no educational requirements for food handlers, as some high school students do this type of work. A high school degree may increase your chances of getting promoted. Training is mostly on the job. Some restaurants and hotels may have formal training programs where food handlers learn portion sizes of menu items, customer service responsibilities, and sanitation and cleaning procedures. Some of this training may be done when serving customers during slower periods.
Average Salary Ranges
Food preparers earned average annual salaries of $20,950 as of May 2011, according to the BLS. You would make over $28,960 as one of the top 10 percent in earnings. Your salary would be highest working at hotels or resorts -- $28,460 per year. Salaries for colleges and full-service restaurants were $26,050 and $20,320 per year, respectively. The top-paying states or districts were Nevada, the District of Columbia and Alaska -- $27,750, $25,920 and $25,660 per year, respectively.
The BLS reported that jobs for food preparers, or handlers, is expected to increase 10 percent through 2020. This rate of growth is slightly lower than the national average of 14 percent for all occupations. People will continue to eat out and carry food out at various food establishments. More food handlers will be needed at upscale restaurants and grocery stores, which offer varieties of ready-to-eat meals.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Food Preparation Workers
- University of St. Mary of the Lake: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Chefs, Cooks, and Food Preparation Workers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Food Preparation Workers
- MyMajors: Food Handler
- CareerPlanner.com: Food Preparation Worker
- Education-Portal.com: Food Preparation Supervisor: Job Duties and Requirements for Becoming a Food Preparation Supervisor
- Food Chain Workers Alliance: Resources