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a butcher standing in front of his shop, holding a beef roast Meat processing involves converting animal carcasses into manageable pieces known as boxed-meat or case-ready meat for use by wholesalers and retailers.  There are a number of occupations that are involved in meat processing.  These occupations include slaughterers and meat packers, poultry cutters and trimmers, fish cutters and trimmers, and butchers and meat cutters.

Slaughterers and meat packers slaughter cattle, hogs, and sheep, and cut the carcasses into rounds, loins, ribs, tenders, and chucks.  They also convert meat into case-ready cuts and produce hamburger meat, sausages, hot dogs, and luncheon meats.  Slaughterers and meat packers often work on assembly lines, using knives, cleavers, meat saws, bandsaws, or other cutting equipment.  Poultry cutters and trimmers slaughter and cut up chickens, turkey, and other poultry, often working as part of an assembly line as well.  Fish cutters and trimmers scale, cut, and dress fish, and are also referred to as fish cleaners.  Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers all prepare ready-to-cook foods at processing plants or grocery and specialty stores.  Butchers and meat cutters commonly work for grocery stores, wholesale establishments, or institutional food services.  They use knives, slicers, power cutters, bandsaws and cleavers to portion the larger cuts of meat into steak and chops, shape and tie roasts, and grind beef.

Meat processing workers work with very sharp equipment, often in cold, damp rooms.  They do a lot of standing and perform many physical and repetitious tasks.  Butchers and cleaners may work in cramped quarters and deal with customers as well.  Meat processing workers have a higher rate of injury than other professions due to the dangerous equipment they must use.  They must have good manual dexterity, depth perception, color discrimination, hand-eye coordination, and physical strength.  Some states also require a health certificate.

No formal education is usually required for workers in the meat processing industry, as training is provided on-the-job by employers.  Highly skilled butchers may have a training period of one to two years.  Trainees often begin by making simple cuts or removing bones, and advance to preparing large cuts and case-ready meat.  Some employees may also learn inventory control, meat buying, and record keeping.

Opportunities for meat processing jobs are expected to grow slower than the national average due to an increase in automation.  Visit the American Meat Institute website for more information about the meat and poultry industry and meat processing careers.

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About Meat Processors