Coronavirus: latest on food factory outbreaks

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

A number of food factories have reported coronavirus cases in the past week
A number of food factories have reported coronavirus cases in the past week

Related tags coronavirus

Food manufacturers continue to report coronavirus cases in their factories, with situations developing at Pilgrim’s Pride and Danish Crown sites in Cornwall and Bernard Matthews’s Holton plant in Suffolk.

A total of 170 members of staff at Pilgrim’s Pride’s meat processing plant in Pool, Cornwall have so far tested positive for COVID-19. That follows an alert through the National Health Service's (NHS’s) test and trace service, which led to the discovery of the outbreak at the site. 

A small number of cases were reported at the site last month. However, further testing found a greater number of employees had been infected but were not showing any signs of symptoms. About 500 members of staff have now been tested.

A spokesman for the manufacturer said: “These are the first positive cases we have experienced at our site in Redruth since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK and appear to coincide with the outbreaks seen more widely around the county.

“To put this into context, we have seen significantly more cases of COVID-19 in Cornwall over the past 14 days than we have experienced within our business of 6,000 employees located in 13 sites across the UK – including Manchester, West Midlands and Leicestershire – since the onset of this pandemic.”

The latest developments follow a report by the Guardian earlier this week suggesting the number of COVID-19 cases in food factories could be as much as 30 times greater than believed​. The article claimed flaws in the way data is reported to the Health & Safety Executive could mean figures are much smaller than they are in reality.

Rise in coronavirus cases

The outbreak at Pilgrim’s Pride coincided with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Cornwall over the past two weeks – a majority of which attributed to the factory outbreak.

Cornwall Council interim director for public health Rachel Wigglesworth said: “We’ve quickly identified and tested hundreds of people, and in finding people who weren’t displaying symptoms we have potentially stopped much wider spread in our communities.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation and appreciate the cooperation of Pilgrim’s Pride Ltd. and their employees.”

This week Danish Crown also reported a case of coronavirus at its processing plant in Bugle, Cornwall. The employee tested positive for the virus after developing symptoms in the last week of September and is now at home self-isolating.

Bugle operation

A spokesman for the manufacturer said: “One of our employees on the morning shift at Danish Crown’s operation in Bugle, Cornwall has tested positive with COVID-19 this morning.  The employee developed symptoms on Monday morning and was immediately sent home to self-isolate and arrange a test.

“We have taken immediate preventative action and identified those personnel who worked near to the employee and/or who would have had extended close contact with the employee and sent them home to self-isolate for 14 days.”

The site remains fully operational and production has not been impacted by the case of COVID-19.

“All personnel at the site have been informed of these developments and have been re-assured that we are committed to keeping them all safe and well,”​ the spokesman added.

“We have also stressed the importance of following all the procedures and government guidance both at work and at home to keep work colleagues, families and friends safe.

Bernard Matthews cases increase

Meanwhile, the number of cases of COVID­-19 at the 2 Sisters-owned Bernard Matthews plant in Holton, Suffolk has increased to 36.

Initial tests at the site identified 18 members of staff had contracted the disease – a total of 123 employees have been tested or are due to be tested. Food production and safety was said to be unaffected by the new cases.

As was the situation with the 18 positive cases announced on Monday​, most of the affected workers live in the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft areas.

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk’s director of public health, said: “The swift and thorough work of our local contact tracers and staff, working alongside Bernard Matthews, has quickly identified these additional cases and we’ve been able to advise them to self-isolation straight away.

“This will certainly help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I would like to reiterate the reassurance I gave on Monday. This situation is being very carefully managed by all the partners working closely together.”

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