COVID-19 guidelines every meat processing facility can use

Infectious disease and public health experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine have issued a set of best practices to keep meat processing facilities operational and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Picsfive | Dreamstime.com
Picsfive | Dreamstime.com

Infectious disease and public health experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine have issued a set of best practices to keep meat processing facilities operational and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The guidelines were adapted from infection control measures and practices used in health care and field environments. The team also performed an exhaustive literature search and toured meatpacking plants to ensure the recommendations were industry-specific.

Hazard mitigation framework

The Meat Processing Facility COVID-19 Playbook is based on a hazard mitigation framework that outlines engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommendations to minimize the risk of COVID-19 to employees and the surrounding communities.

Engineering controls include physical barriers that separate workers on the production line and break areas and ventilation strategies that exhaust room air and deliver clean air. These measures reduce the opportunity for human error.

“Engineering controls put a barrier between you and the virus. In the hospital, we put people in a private room in isolation. In the meatpacking plant, we put barriers between the workers who are shoulder to shoulder,” explained Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness for Nebraska Medicine and executive director of emergency management for the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC.

Meat processing facilities also need to think about administrative controls, such as worker screening strategies, paid sick-leave policies, staged break strategies, staggered break schedules and systematic cleaning and disinfection of facilities. Ineffective policies and practices put everyone at risk.

“Communication and education is key,” Schwedhelm added. “Many plants are working hard to put up infographics and other signage in multiple languages to make sure that all workers can understand this guidance.”

In addition, all workers need to be wearing masks and other forms of PPE before entering the plant and throughout their shifts.

Active screening

Processing facilities need to implement a daily active screening process that includes daily temperature monitoring for all employees or visitors to the facility.

Supervisors should also develop screening questions that are conducted daily. Examples include: “Have you been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days?” and “Are you experiencing any flu-like symptoms?”

It’s important to engage with community health organizations to make sure that employees are staying safe outside of work, Schwedhelm said.

“You can implement a lot of policies at the plant, but the reality is that what takes place at home is outside of your control,” she concluded. “It all comes back to good education and communication to keep everyone safe.”

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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