A meat packer typically works in a commercial meat packing plant or a privately owned slaughterhouse. The facilities may be set up to process different types of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, or chicken using a variety of knives, saws, and other tools. In many cases, it is essential for a meat packer to know how to work on an assembly line. Assembly lines are important because raw meat must pass through dozens of different steps before it is ready to be shipped to the grocery store.
The job responsibilities of a meat packer will vary slightly from facility to facility. However, there are some common duties. Receiving the meat products into the room that stores the meat is one of the most important duties of the meat packer. He or she must also be able to read and fill the orders of the various customers, usually grocery stores and markets. She must also be able to operate the machine that vacuum-suctions the meat. Accurately calculating the weight of the meat products using both a digital scale and a non-digital one are important duties, as well.
A meat packer must perform other duties related to the actual packing of the meat products, too. For example, she must be able to pack the meat into boxes that are properly labeled. She must also prepare meat orders for transportation and shipping. In addition, there is usually a set schedule that must be met – shipping the meat according to the requirements of each customer.
Sometimes, a meat packer will have to trim or de-bone the meat, specifically if it is the request of a wholesale customer. Consequently, she must have knowledge of how to operate various saw and trimmers. It is also not entirely unheard of for the meat packer to prepare individual cuts of meat; however, that duty is usually left to the retail or wholesale customer.
Different meat products require different handling at the packing plant. For example, pigs are often processed differently from cows and sheep. A meat packer may be responsible for removing the hair on the pig before they wash, butcher, and chill the meat. Other times, the meat must be cured and smoked, such as for bacon. In other examples, the meat packer must run a casing machine to make sausage, and then smoke it in preparation for the grocery store.
All these duties must be completed in a sanitary and hygienic manner. The animals must be slaughtered in a “humane” manner — for some people, this terminology may seem like an oxymoron; however, in the United States and many other countries, there are laws that govern the slaughter of animals. Plants are routinely inspected for cleanliness and to ensure that the laws are being followed. Other countries have begun to follow suit. In China, for example, a “humane” slaughter agreement was signed in 2007.