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News & Events / Covid-19 – Update on outbreaks in UK food manufacturing plants and possible risk factors


Over the last few weeks, you will have seen a number of reports regarding Covid-19 outbreaks in food manufacturing environments, particularly meat processing plants. [Note: According to PHE (see section 4.1 here) an outbreak may be defined as: An incident in which two or more people experiencing a similar illness are linked in time or place].

 

Two such declared outbreaks have been in Wales and are being managed in line with the Communicable Disease Outbreak Plan for Wales. In response to the outbreaks, Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales issued a statement and reiterated that “whilst all necessary action is being taken to control and prevent the spread of the virus from person to person, I would like to emphasise that there is no evidence that coronavirus survives in food”.

Detail of the Welsh outbreaks (as reported on 24th June):

2 Sisters plant – Llangefni, Anglesey

Rowan Foods – Wrexham

 

 

Note regarding Kepak Food Group – Merthyr Tydfil

 

There is also an incident centred on the Kepak Food Group plant in Merthyr Tydfil which is currently being investigated but has not been declared an outbreak. 33 cases have potentially occurred in workers at the plant since April but only a small number of these have occurred since June. Investigations are continuing.

 

 

Emerging Findings 

 

Proving modes of transmission during an outbreak is difficult but the emerging view is that aerosol transmission of Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), whether through direct respiratory droplet transfer or contaminated surfaces or objects may be more important than first thought. Multiple recent studies are showing evidence of links between indirect contact and cases of infection.

 

Research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has shown that after ships and workers’ dormitories, food processing factories have been responsible for the biggest localised outbreaks.

 

Also, according to a report carried out in April 2020 by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an estimated 5,000 people working in meat-processing plants in the US had tested positive for the coronavirus and one analysis estimated that half of the cases of the disease in the United States could be traced back to these production facilities.

 

According to investigations carried out by institutions such as CDC and LSHTM there are various factors, including some socio-economic, which may make meat-processing plants ideal breeding grounds for the virus:

 

Socio-economic factors:

BFFF will keep the membership updated as and when further research is concluded.