The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said there were around 40 food factories with active outbreaks in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, many in meat processing plants.
Banham Poultry in Attleborough, Norfolk, has one of the most recent outbreaks, with 75 workers testing positive for COVID-19[feminine[feminine.
Bakery chain Greggs also had an outbreak at its Leeds distribution depot, with “less than 20” employees testing positive on Friday, a spokeswoman said.
The 2 Sisters factory in Couper Angus, Scotland had 157 employees tested positive and 20 of their close contacts on Friday.
Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said the factories pose a complex mix of problems that can lead to higher transmission.
The virologist said the virus stays on surfaces in the cold longer, it can be difficult to socially move away in factories, and many workers may be living together or not wanting to report symptoms as they need to. of work.
He told Sky News: “This virus survives longer in colder environments – both in the air and on surfaces, so there is an increased risk of transmission.
“These types of viruses have a fatty membrane which is very efficiently destroyed by soap but which stabilizes at around 4 ° C.”
When it reaches zero C, it is destroyed.
“This is the case for many respiratory illnesses, the flu and the common cold. “
Prof Young said food processing plants have implemented even stricter health and safety measures than usual since the start of the pandemic, but there are so many details that can be missed.
“You have crowded areas and very busy production lines – it’s hard for people to distance themselves socially,” he said.
“Busy machines can mean workers screaming through production lines, which can increase aerosols and droplets containing viruses that hang around more in cold weather.
“What do you do for tea breaks, lunch breaks, the washrooms?” The virus is so contagious that you can’t let your guard down anywhere. “
It is essential to examine how workers get to and from work, whether they live together in collective housing and whether they are careful at home, he added.
He said that the fact that many workers are paid minimum wage and on time may also be a factor.
“They may not want to report their symptoms because they will lose money,” Professor Young added.
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He recommended signs all over factories reminding workers to be vigilant at work and at home, plenty of hand washing stations and face covers to “instill a certain psychology about protecting others.”
The FSA said not all of the outbreaks occurred in meat processing plants and pointed out that less than 0.25% of the more than 20,000 food processing plants were affected.
He added that it is “very unlikely” that anyone could catch coronavirus food or food packaging, with the most likely cause of plant outbreaks through human-to-human contact.
He said the use of personal protective equipment should continue to be used to protect workers and prevent contamination of food, in accordance with current health and safety policies.