At food processing facilities, the top priority has always been keeping product safe and healthy for consumers. Now, the greater challenge is keeping workers safe and healthy to process product.

Since March, more than 215 U.S. meat and poultry plants have experienced COVID outbreaks.1 Lack of proper PPE, crowded assembly and processing lines, long shifts and tight quarters in common areas all make social distancing a challenge for these facilities.

Yet, they are the backbone of the country’s food and agriculture ecosystem, and businesses we can’t afford to shut down, even temporarily, without compromising food supply.

CDC Recommendations for Food Processing Facilities

The CDC recommends food processing facilities institute a variety of both engineering and administrative controls.2

  1. Configure workstations 6 ft. apart. Modify workstations along processing lines so workers are at least 6 ft. apart in all directions when possible. Use markings and signs to remind workers to maintain their location.
  2. Utilize physical barriers. Consider strip curtains, plexiglass or other impermeable dividers or partitions to separate workers.
  3. Re-evaluate your HVAC. Consult with an HVAC engineer to ensure adequate ventilation in work areas, including utilizing more outdoor air. Where pedestal, hard-mounted and personal fans are used, take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker to another. If fans are removed, remember to address heat hazards in another way.
  4. Re-configure public spaces. Remove or rearrange chairs and tables, add partitions to tables in break rooms and locker rooms and other areas workers may frequent to increase separation. Identify alternative areas to accommodate overflow volume such as training, conference rooms or use outside tents for break and lunch areas.
  5. Provide proper PPE. Conduct a hazard assessment to determine which type of PPE workers need. Provide PPE that is either disposable (preferred) or if reusable, ensure it is properly disinfected and stored in a clean location when not in use. Use videos or in-person demonstrations of proper PPE donning and doffing. Emphasize that PPE worn at the facility should not be taken home or shared.
  6. Stagger arrival, departure and break times. Provide temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid congregation of workers during breaks. Similarly, stagger workers’ arrival and departure times and to avoid congregating at time clocks and in lock room areas. Help workers to find other sources of transportation to reduce the need for carpooling.
  7. Review leave and incentive policies. Analyze incentive programs and modify them to ensure that employees are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have COVID. Additional accommodations might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
  8. Provide access to personal hygiene stations and supplies. Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations. When possible, make these and trash receptacle stations touch-free. Build additional short breaks into the schedule to increase hand washing and overall employee hygiene.
  9. Educate workers on new policies and procedures. Supplement OSHA training with your plant’s COVID-19 precautions, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of infection and ways to prevent the virus. Make sure all training communication is provided in languages spoken by your workers and at their appropriate literacy level.
  10. Screen workers. While optional, the CDC recommends screening workers upon entry into the facility, including checking temperatures. Make sure screeners are wearing appropriate PPE and are trained in using temperature monitors. Employees with temperature of 100.4ºF or greater should be encouraged to self-isolate and contract their healthcare provider. Provide these employees with information on your facility’s return to work post-COVID program and inform human resources and their supervisor.

Contact your HUB Agribusiness expert for more information on deploying a COVID-19 safety program across your food plant.