Of particular concern during this pandemic has been the apparent emergence of food manufacturing plants as high risk environments for outbreaks of Covid-19 amongst employees. In particular, meat processing plants and abattoirs have seen high volumes of workers testing positive in locations across the UK. Plants in Anglesey, Wrexham and West Yorkshire have all experienced significant outbreaks and this has been reflected across the continent.
Experts have warned that this was likely to be the case, given that factories provide ideal environments for coronavirus to spread and because workers will find social distancing difficult on production lines.
The government has issue guidance for the food manufacturing industry during the pandemic which advises specific risk assessments should take place, enforces social distancing, insists on personal protective equipment, and advises on strict hygiene and cleaning procedures and fit for work policies. The Food Standards Agency has also issued guidance on hygiene processes and requirements in order for food businesses to safely operate.
The Food Standards Agency has reiterated that the probability of falling ill with the virus as a result of handling food or consumption is negligible, but recent research has suggested that coronavirus could remain on frozen or refrigerated food for up to 21 days. Although no cases of this nature have yet been confirmed by the World Health Organisation, the scientists claimed the theory is a possible explanation for the re-emergence of the virus in locations such as New Zealand and Beijing.
Food businesses in the UK should be aware that whilst authorities and regulators, such as the Health & Safety Executive, may take into consideration the conditions increasing the chance of outbreaks, they will still expect full precautions to be taken and compliance with the regulations, in order to protect the workers and reduce the likelihood of onward transmission.
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