Gateway Gazette

Continued Monitoring of Food Processing Plants

The health and safety of workers at Alberta’s food processing plants continues to be monitored to ensure the safe operation of Alberta’s food supply chain.

Public health officials, Occupational Health and Safety, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and others have all worked together to protect worker safety at the plants and help limit the spread of COVID-19.

A dedicated Alberta Health Services task force is working around the clock to respond to each COVID-19 outbreak. Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety are visiting facilities regularly to ensure control measures are implemented and provide ongoing advice and support to the workers and employers.

To date, there have been 946 COVID-19 cases in workers at the Cargill facility and 798 workers (84 per cent) have recovered. At JBS, 566 workers were confirmed cases and 434 workers (76 per cent) have recovered. Harmony Beef has 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases in workers and 12 workers (32 per cent) have recovered. 

Safety measures in place

Meat processing facilities in Alberta are expected to implement safety controls that meet requirements identified by Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety legislation and chief medical officer of health orders. These controls vary among the facilities to address each situation and operation. Some controls in place may include:

  • staff temperature check before entering the facility
  • providing face masks and other personal protective equipment to employees to be worn at all times
  • enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices
  • staggered breaks and shift flexibility
  • prohibiting unnecessary visitors at the facility
  • increasing distance between employees and installing screening between individual employee stations
  • vehicles entering the plant gate cannot have more than two passengers
  • installing numerous physical barriers throughout the facility (for example, Plexiglas partitions)
  • reconfiguring lunchrooms and locker rooms to comply with physical distancing requirements
  • installing additional sink(s) and sanitization stations
  • reconfiguring various entrances / egress points to control the flow of foot traffic
  • updating procedures, training materials

Occupational Health and Safety continues to prioritize the inspection and monitoring of food processing plants to ensure the required controls are in place to meet the Occupational Health and Safety legislation and chief medical officer of health orders.

Actions taken

The Government of Alberta, along with the chief medical officer of health and Alberta Health Services, have hosted three telephone town halls to listen to and answer questions from workers, the community and employers.

Since the outbreaks were declared, Alberta Health Services has conducted three inspections at Cargill, four at JBS, and two at Harmony Beef. AHS has also hosted virtual town halls with employees at several facilities, and has provided information to employees in English and translated into multiple languages.

Occupational Health and Safety joined Alberta Health Services on site at Cargill for the reopening on May 4. Both are on site on May 6 to further assess the operations.

COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness. That said, to support the continuous operation of Alberta’s food supply chain, Agriculture and Forestry has partnered with the CFIA to increase food inspector capacity. Provincial meat inspectors are being trained for deployment to high-priority federally licensed plants in Alberta, if needed, to maintain inspection capacity.

Agriculture and Forestry has also established an intergovernmental business resumption protocol for provincially and federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta. This protocol was the first of its kind in the country. It formalized the cooperative approach used among the various organizations to minimize disruptions in the food supply and ensure operations can safely resume as quickly as possible when there is a closure.

All three of the agencies continue to provide support and advice to the facilities to ensure worker health and safety.

Occupational Health and Safety is now conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding potential exposure of workers at Cargill and JBS related to COVID-19. This will also include an investigation of any potential non-compliance that may have affected the health and safety of workers at the facility. Complex investigations such as this can take a significant amount of time to complete.

Worker information

Alberta Health Services is working with the local municipalities, Primary Care Networks and others to support any positive cases and limit the spread within each community. This includes:

  • Testing and providing medical supports for anyone in need.
  • Educating on how to use PPE.
  • Providing information and support for how to safely self-isolate.
  • Providing information on available supports.

Assessment centres have been opened in High River and Brooks for staff and community members. Testing is being offered to all workers, including those without symptoms, to limit the spread.

Translation services are being used to help explain requirements concerning self-isolation and COVID-19 testing, and to communicate the availability of other supports that may be necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

AHS is also posting additional information on its COVID-19 website to support workers and employers in these settings.

The health and safety of all workers and Albertans is critical. Workers are encouraged to work with employers to address any concern raised related to workplace health and safety. If workers feel the issue is not addressed, they can contact the Occupational Health and Safety contact centre at 1-866-415-8690.

As more businesses continue to reopen, it is crucial that Albertans, including workers, continue to maintain physical distancing, practise good hand hygiene and sanitizing measures.

Alberta has a comprehensive response to COVID-19 including measures to enhance social distancing, screening and testing. Financial supports are helping Alberta families and businesses.

Quick facts

  • COVID-19 is not a food borne illness.
  • There are almost 200 meat slaughter facilities in Alberta.
  • Confirmed and recovered cases:
    • Cargill: 946 cases in workers; 798 recovered (84%)
    • JBS Foods: 566 cases in workers; 434 recovered (76%)
    • Harmony: 38 cases in workers; 12 recovered (32%)

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