Meat Processing Plants at increased risk of infection
The news that three processing plants in the Republic of Ireland were at the centre of recent Covid outbreaks has raised concerns among the industry.
O’Brien Fine Foods, Kildare Chilling, Irish Dog Foods, and Carroll Cuisine have temporarily suspended operations. Over three hundred cases of Covid have been identified at meat plants in counties Offaly, Kildare and Laois.
Industry representatives have met with trade unions in recent days to discuss the safety of workers.
The Irish Times reported that more than 80 of the 300-strong staff at O’Brien’s Fine Foods had tested positive for Covid-19.
Other clusters of infections were reported at other poultry and meatpacking sites in Northern Ireland. Unions called for meat and poultry firms to ensure that social distancing and other safety measures were in place for staff.
An outbreak was reported in recent weeks at Moy Park in Ballymena. Fewer than five workers were confirmed as testing positive for Covid, confirmed by the North’s Health Minister Robin Swann.
In a statement, Moy Park said it is working closely with the Public Health Agency and other government bodies.
“As coronavirus has spread across the communities in which we live, we are doing all that we can to help keep the virus out of our facilities and help prevent its spread,” it added.
“We continue to strictly follow all safeguarding procedures across our sites, such as enhanced cleaning and hygiene regimes, thermal temperature scanning, perspex screens, additional PPE (personal protective equipment) and social distancing measures.”
Workers in meat plants at ‘increased risk’
Research by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has found that workers in meat and poultry processing plants are at increased risk. Its report stated that COVID-19 cases among US workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities were reported by 19 states. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, 4,913 cases and 20 deaths occurred. Factors potentially affecting risk for infection include difficulties with workplace physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK also published guidance on adapting food manufacturing operations during COVID-19. It stated that the “current situation” should not change the requirements for the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the food industry, “for the protection of workers, and to prevent the contamination of food during food production”.