Coronavirus slowed poultry production by up to 15 percent
The coronavirus slowed poultry production by up to 15 percent and forced hundreds of workers from two Eastern Shore processing plants last month, reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The CDC visited four facilities across the Shore in early May after meat processing plants nationwide were identified as viral hotspots. States across the country shuttered schools and businesses in March for more than two months, disrupting the food supply chain and plunging the country into a recessionary tailspin.
The CDC released reports last week about two of those visits to a Perdue Farms plant in Salisbury, Md., and an Amick Farms plant in Hurlock, Md. The Amick Farms plant lost 40 percent of its 610 workers due to virus-related reasons, including self-quarantining and childcare duties. The workforce reduction created a 15-percent drop in production from 320,000 chickens per day to less than 275,000, the May 17 report said.
“If absenteeism continues to get worse, the plant has plans to reduce processing line speeds, reduce egg placements, and/or ship chickens to their sister plant in South Carolina for processing, if necessary,” the report said.
Perdue’s Salisbury plant lost more than 180 workers per day, resulting in a 10-percent drop in production from 245,000 chickens per day to less than 225,000, the report said. The plant manages two processing shifts staffed by about 245 workers on a typical day.
In both cases, the CDC concluded the plants had established new protocols to prevent the virus’s spread, including testing of all workers, changes to ensure social distancing during work and breaks, and new sanitation practices. The CDC also released a series of recommendations for each plant.
In addition to maintaining changes the plants had already made, the agency recommended the Perdue plant remove all fans from the processing floor and encourage single-file movement among workers throughout the facility. It also said Perdue should encourage workers to avoid carpooling to and from work.
At the Amick plant, the CDC recommended that people screening workers for the virus be given personal protection equipment, including gloves, a gown, a face shield and, at minimum, a face mask — preferably an N95 respirator. It said the plant should better communicate to workers how its plants will manage sick employees and inform them about new policies regarding absenteeism, including paid leave for those who test positive for the virus.
The plant slowdowns have lead to longer layouts and smaller bird placements at farms across the region. Allen Harim was forced to depopulate about 2 million birds due a slowdown in processing operations. But conditions for farmers have improved over the last several weeks, said Jonathan Moyle, a poultry specialist with the University of Maryland Extension. Integrators are beginning to shorten layouts and place more birds, he said.
“It seems to be getting better. A little, not a lot,” he said. “There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.”
A CDC spokesperson said two reports from plant visits in Virginia were not immediately available.
As of June 4, the coronavirus has infected at least 1.9 million Americans and killed nearly 110,000.
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