The Alberta government says it’s continuing to monitor the health and safety of food processing employees after they’ve experienced some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the country.
The government said in a news release today that Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) have been visiting food processing facilities regularly and have implemented a number of protection measures.
The new protocols come after hundreds of employees have tested positive with COVID-19.
The outbreak at the Cargill facility near High River is considered the largest COVID-19 outbreak linked to a single facility in North America. The outbreak at the JBS processing facility in Brooks has also been large.
To date, there have been 946 COVID-19 cases in workers at Cargill, with 798 workers recovered, according to the government. At JBS, there have been 566 confirmed cases, with 434 workers recovered.
Harmony Beef has 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases in workers, with 12 recoveries.
The government said meat processing facilities are expected to introduce a number of safety measures. They include:
• Staff temperature check before entering the facility.
• Providing face masks and other personal protective equipment to employees. They are to be worn at all times.
• Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices.
• Staggered breaks and shift flexibility.
• Prohibiting unnecessary visitors at the facility.
• Increasing distance between employees and installing screening between individual employee stations.
• Vehicles entering the plant gate cannot have more than two passengers.
• installing numerous physical barriers throughout the facility.
• Reconfiguring lunchrooms and locker rooms to comply with physical distancing requirements.
• Installing additional sinks and sanitization stations.
• Reconfiguring various entrances points to control the flow of foot traffic.
• Updating procedures and training materials
Workers will be provided with testing even if they don’t have symptoms, will receive education on how to use personal protective equipment and be provided with safety information and supports.
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said today there have been three inspections at Cargill, four at JBS and two at Harmony Beef.
She said Albertans have many questions about the outbreaks, adding that both JBS and Cargill are being investigated by OHS for potential non-compliance.
COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness. However, the agriculture department has partnered with the CFIA to increase inspector capacity.