Recently, several outbreaks of coronavirus in food factories were reported across the UK. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), there are active outbreaks in 40 food processing factories and meat plants. The cases were reported mainly in Wales, Northern Ireland, and England.
The recent outbreak reported in Banham Poultry, Attleborough has 75 active coronavirus cases. A spokesperson from Greggs reported less than 20 coronavirus cases in the Leeds distribution depot. Also, the 2 Sisters Factory in Scotland reported 157 coronavirus cases among the staff members.
Lawrence Young is a professor of molecular oncology, University of Warwick. He said that there are complex issues in these factories which leads to the transmission of coronavirus in food factory staff.
He also said that the virus stays active in a cold environment for a longer time. This helps the virus to sustain itself in such factories. Also, the staff members can not ensure social distancing at all times in such places. Many people also do not report their symptoms due to their workload. This causes a surge of coronavirus cases in food factories.
The coronavirus can survive in a cold environment on different surfaces. It also sustains itself in the air at a lower temperature. This leads to an outbreak of coronavirus in food processing factories.
Professor Young also said that the outer lipid fatty layer can be destroyed by using soap. However, this layer becomes stable at a lower temperature such as 4C. But when the temperature drops to 0C, the fatty membrane no longer sustains which leads to the killing of the virus. This phenomenon applies to various diseases of the respiratory system including influenza.
Professor Young also said that the food processing factories are strictly following the preventive guidelines for coronavirus infection. They have ensured a safe environment by implementing strict measures in the factories. However, many factors are still present that can lead to an outbreak of coronavirus infection.
He also said that the production lines in these factories usually have crowded areas. It is usually difficult to maintain social distancing in such areas due to close contact with each other. Hence, it leads to the transmission of the virus among the staff members.
The coronavirus not only spreads through coughing and sneezing but also through talking. In these factories, people usually shout to communicate with each other due to heavy machinery in the production plants. This leads to the generation of aerosols in the air which linger around due to low temperature. These aerosol molecules carry viral load which can infect other workers.
The risk of coronavirus transmission also increases during different lunch and tea breaks. Also, most of these people usually live from hand to mouth so they do not report any symptoms.
According to the FSA, the risk of contracting coronavirus through food is highly unlikely. The data shows that only 0.25% of the food processing plants reported coronavirus outbreaks.
The experts recommend that the factory workers continue the use of safety equipment and protective wear at all times. Also, the factory management should ensure different handwashing stations across the unit. They should also raise awareness among the workers about the potential risk of coronavirus transmission.