Food Manufacture understands that 40 workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus at Fawdon between 16-27 October and those affected are isolating and receiving treatment where required.
A Nestlé spokesperson said: “We are working closely with authorities and continue to follow all advice to reduce the risk of infection. Our factories already have strict hygiene measures in place and we have issued extra guidance and implemented additional measures across all of our sites since the very beginning of the pandemic.
“If a case is confirmed, we undertake rigorous contact tracing to ensure we can isolate any other individuals who may have been in close contact in the workplace. We have also introduced the additional measure of the mandatory wearing of disposable masks across the factory. Keeping people safe remains our top priority.”
Cranswick, which temporarily closed its Ballymena plant in Northern Ireland in August after a surge in cases in the vicinity, is addressing the Watton outbreak with Norfolk County Council and Public Health England (PHE). The development follows reports last week of a COVID-19 outbreak at SK Chilled Foods’s factory in Riverside, Middlesborough and confirmation of at least 75 positive cases at Bernard Matthews’s Great Witchingham facility in Norfolk.
On the latest situation at Cranswick, Clive Black, director and head of research at finance and markets analyst Shore Capital commented: “We believe that the vast majority of positive cases are asymptomatic in nature.
“Whilst so, such positive cases mean that affected employees are now self-isolated with contacts being tracked down, which makes for potential disruption to optimal production at the factory.
Production to continue at Watton
“Accordingly, whilst we anticipate that production will continue at Watton, which it should be said is necessary from an animal welfare perspective too, Cranswick is likely to be drawing a little more upon its Ballymena and Preston (Hull) production sites to fulfil what we believe has been very strong domestic demand for its products in recent times.”
“As a precaution, we also believe that Cranswick will have voluntarily self-suspended the export of licensed goods to China from Watton, a disruption that we expect to remain in place for some weeks so that all the necessary reassurances can be offered to the export market. We see this as good practice by the group.”
Cranswick had planned for such disruption in its budgets and commercial forecasts, said Black. As a result, he added that Shore Capital did not expect the outbreak to change its expectations for the company’s performance in its financial year to 2021.
In a statement, Cranswick announced: “We can confirm a number of colleagues at our site in Watton have tested positive for COVID-19. They were tested in line with the advice given to us by PHE, are all asymptomatic and currently self-isolating.
“Testing of colleagues at the site is ongoing. We are continuing to work co-operatively with PHE, HSE [the Health and Safety Executive], DEFRA [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and Norfolk County Council, but envisage there will be disruption to the full operation of the plant in the short term.”
In a statement released on 26 October, Norfolk County Council’s director of public health Dr Louise Smith said: “Testing of staff at Cranswick Foods has revealed a significant outbreak.
“At this stage we have identified about 140 positive cases out of around 300 tested so far. The analysis of swabs continues and the remaining staff on site are being tested today and tomorrow.
“Due to the high proportion of positive case results received so far, we are liaising with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and have stepped up contact tracing and leafleting in the Watton area, urging people with symptoms to access testing.”
SK Chilled Foods
A total of 35 positive cases were recorded at SK Chilled Foods's Middlesborough site over 18-19 October, bringing the total at the facility to 50 since 24 September. The company employs 400 staff at the factory and 900 staff in total across its business.
A spokesperson for SK Chilled Foods said after the news broke: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is our number one priority and once the scale of COVID-19 was known in March we immediately took steps to protect our staff.
“Given the environment they work in, they already wore full PPE [personal protective equipment] and rigorous cleaning procedures were in place, but in addition we introduced new measures such as staggered shifts which gave staff more space and therefore encourage social distancing, and perspex screens have been installed in the staff canteen. Face visors were also added to the PPE at an early stage.
“Staff who have tested positive are now self-isolating in line with government guidelines and we will continue to liaise closely with the Council’s environmental health officers whilst operating to the very highest standards.”