Individuals working in meat and food processing facilities are at considerable risk of acquiring respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Close working conditions, inadequate sanitation facilities, lack of personal protective equipment, and damp conditions create a perfect environment for the spread of these illnesses. As the pandemic spreads across the US, it’s certain that the problems within meat and poultry processing facilities will continue until effective treatments and/or a vaccine emerges.
COVID-19 at Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities in the US
As of the first week of May 2020, 115 meat and poultry processing plants in the United States had outbreaks of COVID-19. In all, 4,913 cases were reported and 20 fatalities occurred. Since then, the numbers have continued to rise and there have been multiple new outbreaks that have emerged around the country.
Reasons for the spread of COVID-19 in meat and poultry processing facilities varies. Most doctors and scientists agree that the close working conditions, the rapid pace of operations, and the inability of personal protective equipment to protect workers from contracting COVID-19 has contributed to the significant rates of infection within the meat processing industry.
Another problem is the fact that the incubation rate varies considerably among those who are infected. Coupled with the fact that relatively few individuals show active symptoms, this makes it very difficult, albeit not impossible, to track and contain outbreaks before they spread throughout an entire processing facility.
Other Biological Hazards
COVID-19 is not the only threat posed to meat and poultry processing workers. Brucellosis is often transmitted through the processing of beef and swine carcasses. The bacteria can cause high fevers, headaches, muscle weakness, and other ailments.
Psittacosis is a bacteria that can circulate within poultry processing facilities. As with other bacteria and viruses, it often infects individuals who work within the kill and pick areas, and to those who are responsible for evisceration of the carcass.
Plant Operator Responsibility and Liability
Food processing plant operators have a duty of care to their employees to protect them from contracting these and other infectious diseases. That includes providing workers with the appropriate personal protective equipment, training workers how to use such equipment, and ensuring that work stations are appropriately spaced in such a way to reduce the risk of transmission. Employers who do not take the proper precautions negligently place the health of their employees, and the health of their families in danger.