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Meat Cutter, Retail and Wholesale


Meat is present in most cultures, either as a main dish or as a garnish. The animals are raised by farmers and slaughtered at slaughterhouses, but it is the meat cutters who actually de-bone, cut up, and sell meat at retail and wholesale levels. They try to prepare meat so that it is clean, lean, and attractive to the shopper.

They work in a variety of ways. Some work for wholesale distribution companies, and package a lot of one type of meat, whereas others may work in or own butcher shops. In these shops, they prepare a wide selection of meat products in advance, as well as specifically to a customer's request.

Breaking down carcasses can take hand and power tools, a clear, level head and an adherence to rules about safety and cleanliness. It also takes a sound knowledge of the anatomy of a number of different animals. Meat cutters also order, handle and prepare for sale a variety of seafood products, and if they run a shop, as well, they deal with ordering and selling manufacturer-prepared meat products, cured meat, and look after inventories and customer relations.

These workers have excellent hand-eye coordination, depth perception, color vision and manual dexterity. They work in cool and humid areas that smell strongly of raw meat and work with sharp tools. They may start out with more routine work such as removing bones, and gradually learn other skills such as rolling and tying roasts, and curing meat. Some even start out on a an assembly line, and work their way up from there.

Eventually they can advance to positions such as meat department manager in a supermarket or supervisor in a meat processing establishment. Some open their own meat markets or move into related positions such as meat inspector or meat sales representative.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Meat cutters need good health, and the strength and stamina required to lift and move heavy pieces of meat. They should have excellent eye-hand coordination, depth perception and color vision, as well as be able to follow instructions. They should enjoy working independently as well as in a team environment. They must be able to communicate well with the general public, and have a head for business if they want to branch off on their own.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Use tools to cut up meat into family-sized and individual-sized portions
  • Ensure meat quality
  • Package, price and display meat items
  • Prepare and market ready to cook and partially/fully prepared meat items
  • Display meat products properly
  • Serve customers
  • Cut orders to meet special needs
  • Keep records of meat sales and distribution
  • Maintain inventories
  • Maintain clean and sterile environment at all times
  • Meat cutters spend each day working with meat. They cut up carcasses, package meat, and either sell it directly to customers or distribute it to a number of locations. They do everything from de-bone meat to precook it for sale. They work indoors, and rarely travel, unless they work with a small distribution company and help with deliveries, as well.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Meat cutters are employed by supermarkets, specialty sausage and delicatessen stores, and independent meat markets or by meat processing establishments. Generally, they work indoors in temperature-controlled conditions. They are on their feet most of their work day and routinely lift items weighing up to 50 pounds.
  • They generally work 40 hours a week. If they work with a supermarket, they may be required to work evenings and weekends. They usually work alongside at least one assistant.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Meat cutters can advance to supervisory positions, or open their own shop specializing in organic, free-range meat, sausage and delicatessen products, or imported meats. They can also become meat inspectors for the government, or meat sales representatives for meat distribution companies.

  Educational Paths  
Meat cutters receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory to become a meat cutter, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training with classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the meat cutter a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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