Unite the union has said that it has received reports of more suspected coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories and told Food Manufacture that, while the outbreaks were not confirmed, concerns had been raised at more than five sites.
Last week, 2 Sisters Food Group suspended production at its chicken plant in Llangefni, Wales, following multiple cases of coronavirus there.
The company previously revealed that a “small number” of workers across different departments had tested positive for COVID-19 at its meat factory site at Willand in Cullompton, Devon.
There was also news last week of a localised outbreak at an Asda meat processing site in Kirklees operated by Kober Ltd, as well as the Rowan Foods site in Wrexham, North Wales which has reported positive cases.
Unite said that employers had a duty to safeguard staff and the public.
Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Unite has warned time and again that coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories throughout the UK were likely. The union has been in touch with the management of all three closed factories to insist that staff only return to work when it is safe to do so and when further outbreaks can be prevented. Unfortunately, we are also aware of suspected Covid-19 outbreaks at other sites across the UK.”
She said that while it was true there were difficulties in maintaining staff distancing at many sites “this is no excuse”. She also highlighted similar outbreaks in the US and other countries that have been widely reported on.
Meat plants and food manufacturers have been implementing measures to protect staff, following the Government guidelines.
Moy Park has just invested over £4m in safety and supportive measures to protect its staff.
The investment included advanced safety measures, which were rolled out across its facilities since late March, as well as enhanced reward packages for team members to thank them for their efforts as key workers.
Key measures introduced during this period included the installation of Perspex screens, one-way flow systems on-site, staggered breaks and socially distanced rest and break areas, as well as additional personal protective equipment (PPE). The company is also rolling outthermal temperature screening technology at its sites as another protective step to stop COVID-19 entering its facilities.
Kirsty Wilkins, HR and performance director at Moy Park, said; “Our key workers are food heroes, who have been working harder than ever to ensure we continue to provide society with safe, nutritious food in these uncertain and unprecedented times.
“We are proud of our team and their efforts to feed the nation and keep our supermarket shelves stocked. Safety is a condition at Moy Park, and we have worked tirelessly over the last 11 weeks to implement all best practice measures available to help safeguard our food heroes. We followed all Government guidelines and created bespoke solutions early on, with many of them now recognised as leading the way for food processors.”
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee is to hold its fifth public evidence session as part of its inquiry into COVID-19 and the food supply chain. The session will consider the impact of the lockdown on restaurants, cafés and pubs, and preparations for reopening to dining-in customers. It will include Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UKHospitality; Andrew Kenny, UK managing director, Just Eat; Professor Tim Lang, professor of food policy, City, University of London; and Anna Taylor, executive director, Food Foundation.