Kienlen: Meat processors increase biosecurity measures

Spacing out workers and installing plexiglass shields among steps taken to reduce COVID-19 risk

Meat processing plants have taken numerous steps to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19, officials say.

“Meat processors across the country have been working diligently and collaboratively with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and public health officials to take comprehensive measures to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19,” said Marie-France MacKinnon, vice president of public affairs with the Canadian Meat Council.

This includes spacing workers further apart on production lines, installing plexiglass dividers, staggering work breaks, and hiring additional workers to conduct more frequent cleaning of surfaces that are frequently touched, she said. As well, workers have their temperatures taken before their shifts and in warmer parts of the country, some plants have set up tents outside so workers on break can more easily social distance.

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“Everyone has taken off their competitive business hat and has really pulled together in sharing best practices to protect our food supply,” MacKinnon said during a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association online town hall on April 2.

Production at two plants has been affected during the pandemic.

On March 29, Olymel shuttered its hog processing plant in Yamachiche, Que. for 14 days after nine of its workers tested positive for COVID-19. About 1,000 people work at that plant.

On March 27, slaughter operations at Harmony Beef were halted after an employee (who had been off work) was found to have COVID-19. The plant is now back in operation, said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“On Monday (March 30), they were able to get their fabrication line operating, and on Tuesday they were able to restore their slaughter line as well,” said Laycraft.

COVID-19 does not represent a food safety concern, said MacKinnon.

“There are no reports to support the evidence of transmission of COVID-19 through food or food packaging,” she said.

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