Tyson beef

Workers process beef at the Tyson Foods plant in Pasco, Wash.

The North American Meat Institute is crediting meat and poultry processors for reducing the spread of COVID-19 among workers below infection rates in the general U.S. population.

The Meat Institute’s analysis of data from the Food and Environmental Reporting Network found reported new COVID infection rates among meat and poultry workers in December were one-fifth the amount in May. Infection rates in the general population were nine times higher during the same period.

Using FERN’s data, the Meat Institute calculated the U.S. meat and poultry sector had an average of 19.91 new reported cases per 100,000 workers per day in December, compared to an average of 98.39 new cases per 100,000 workers in May.

Using statistics reported by the New York Times, the Meat Institute calculated the average new case rate for the U.S. population rose from 7.11 cases per 100,000 people per day in May to 63.01 cases per 100,000 people per day in December.

“This new data further demonstrates that the more than $1.5 billion spent on comprehensive protections implemented this spring reversed the pandemic’s trajectory and is protecting the selfless men and women who have kept America’s refrigerators full and our farm economy working throughout the crisis,” Julie Anna Potts, the Meat Institute’s president and CEO, said in a press release.

A Capital Press analysis of the FERN data found there were 2,465 new reported cases of COVID-19 among U.S. meat and poultry workers in December, compared to 15,243 in May.

The number of cases per day averaged 79.5 in December, compared to 491.7 in May. The longest stretch with no new cases reported was 18 days in December, compared to two days in May.

The Meat Institute estimates there are 500,000 meat and poultry plant workers in the U.S.

Since the start of the pandemic, meat and poultry processors have added temperature checks and health screenings before and during shifts and have provided face masks, face shields and personal protection equipment. They’ve incorporated social distancing where possible and physical barriers between work stations, according to the Meat Institute.

They’ve enhanced sanitation in break rooms, lunch rooms and other common areas and upgraded air sanitation and ventilation systems. They’ve provided on-demand testing and increased access to health services and preventive care. They’ve also given workers information on safe practices at work, at home and in the community.

“Meat Institute members stand ready to work with the Biden administration to continue using these proven measures and moving forward to vaccinate frontline meat and poultry workers as soon as possible and even assist in vaccine distribution for all Americans,” Potts said.

The Meat Institute and United Food and Commercial Workers in late December jointly urged state governors to follow CDC guidance that frontline meat and poultry workers should be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations after healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.

Recommended for you