The food processing industry converts raw agricultural products (i.e. grains) into edible items such as crackers or cereal. It also cuts and trims meat and poultry, turns milk into cheese, bakes bread and so forth. The demand for processed foods such as snacks and frozen meals has grown dramatically over the past ten years as the number of two-income families has increased. Recently, some individuals and organizations have criticized the processed food industry. These critics argue that the industry has contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States and elsewhere.
According to Food Processing, the largest American companies in the sector during 2007 were Kraft Foods, Tyson Foods, PepsiCo, Nestl Anheuser-Busch, General Mills, Dean Foods, Smithfield Foods, Cadbury Schweppes and ConAgra Foods. The largest of these firms is Kraft, which employs more than 100,000 people. Working in food processing can be dangerous. Compared to other industries, food processing has a high incidence of injuries and illnesses that lead to workers' compensation claims. During 2006, there were 7.4 cases of work-related injury or sickness for every 100 full-time food manufacturing employees. Animal slaughtering plants were the most dangerous place to work in the industry, and bakeries were the safest.
Many people in the food processing industry have little or no experience in the field before they are hired. The Retail Bakers of America has a certification program with four levels: certified journey baker, certified baker, certified decorator and certified master baker. Processed food companies also hire managers and executive-level staff. Typically, these individuals hold advanced degrees.
During recent years, the food processing industry has struggled due to rising commodity prices. For example, small firms such as bagel companies and bakeries have been forced to raise prices or lay off employees due to the higher cost of wheat. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects overall employment in the food processing occupations to grow 8 percent between 2006 and 2016.