Calls for protection of US food workers during pandemic

Thursday, 07 May, 2020

Calls for protection of US food workers during pandemic

Members of the Safe Food Coalition are calling on the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to take immediate steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to workers in meat and poultry processing facilities. While some companies have taken steps to mitigate the risk of infection, the industry has not adopted them uniformly, according to the coalition.

The coalition wants FSIS to require facilities to maintain social distancing between personnel throughout the work day, improve ventilation, install work station dividers when distancing is not possible, provide adequate personal protection equipment, increase sanitation and hand-washing opportunities, and ensure policies that keep sick workers home, such as paid sick leave.

It is also calling for a stop to the issuing of line speed waivers which allow poultry plants to exceed the normal maximum speed of 140 birds per minute. It has been reported that since the crisis began, the USDA issued more speed waivers than in the previous 12 months combined, which could present a workplace health and safety risk for the workers in these facilities. The coalition also states that running slaughter lines at maximum possible speeds undermines efforts to maintain social distancing.

“FSIS, an agency within USDA, faces considerable pressure to support an abundant food supply, particularly in a time when an increasing number of Americans are facing food insecurity. Yet efforts to keep the food system running at maximum capacity without regard to worker health are short-sighted, as they will ultimately contribute to more outbreaks, closures, and disruptions to the food system,” the coalition wrote to US Under Secretary for Food Safety.

Image credit: © Kalinovskiy

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