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Food factories could be Christmas super-spreaders, warns TUC

FOOD factories could be “super-spreaders” of Covid-19 in the run-up to Christmas, the TUC warns today.

The trade union organisation says that workers in food plants already face a higher chance of contracting coronavirus due to the lack of airflow, poor social distancing and low temperatures.

And a huge influx of temporary staff over the festive period could see cases “rocket,” it predicts.

Food processing has the third highest rate of outbreaks of any sector across Europe, after care homes and hospitals, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control.

Since March, several British food factories have been forced to close during the pandemic after reporting hundreds of cases of coronavirus, among them suppliers to major supermarkets. 

Last month, turkey meat manufacturer Bernard Matthews reported 147 positive cases across two sites. 

But food manufacturing companies across Britain are currently advertising for temporary workers as they gear up for the busy Christmas period. 

They include Dessert factory Bakkavor, which had 115 staff test positive for Covid-19 over the summer, with at least one fatality. 

The company is seeking hundreds of seasonal staff to meet demand for Christmas. 

Meat supplier Cranswick, hit by outbreaks that led to three workers losing their lives, is recruiting for at least 130 Christmas jobs in one factory.

The TUC warns that current workplace safety guidance for food production is “out-of-date” and called on ministers to “stop dragging their feet” and make it a legal requirement for employers to publish their risk assessments. 

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “There is a real danger that food factories could become ‘super spreaders’ of Covid-19 as they produce turkeys and other seasonal fare for Christmas.

“Out-of-date guidelines on food production, combined with the seasonal increase in staff, will put factory workers at an even higher risk of infection.

“Ministers urgently need to update the guidance for food production. They must require employers to publish their risk assessments. 

“And they must resource the HSE properly, so it can get into food factories and crack down on unsafe working. 

“That’s how to make sure everyone is safe at work this Christmas.” 

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been approached for comment.

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