The Harmony Beef slaughter plant at Balzac, Alta. halted processing on Friday after an employee who works at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.
According to Harmony spokesperson Crosbie Cotton, the company was informed by Alberta Health Services on Thursday that an employee who had not been at work for several days had tested positive. After finding out, the company sent home 11 workers from the employee’s department for 14 days of quarantine, even though they did not show any symptoms.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says it did not provide slaughter inspection services on Friday while appropriate health risk assessments were being conducted. The CFIA also says a date for resumption of slaughter operations is still to be determined.
“We are working with the CFIA to have the harvesting side of the plant fully open as soon as possible, hopefully Monday,” says Cotton, noting several hundred other employees were still at work on Friday.
The plant has the capacity to process 750 head per day.
The CFIA says it’s currently contacting all its employees that work at the plant, and that inspectors have been asked to conduct a self-assessment for potential symptoms of the virus.
Meat processing plants across the country have implemented extra measures to mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak among employees.
“For weeks now we have been checking the temperature of — and screening — every employee every day at the entrance. We have brought in extra people to sanitize the plant both during the day and after every shift. We stagger shifts to create social distancing and have implemented many other safety precautions,” says Cotton.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 situation, there has been concern over what if a packing plant employee tested positive for the virus and now we are going to see that play out in real life,” says Shaun Haney of RealAgriculture.
This week on RealAg Radio, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau stated it was critical that the processing sector stays open during this time of COVID-19.
A Sanderson Farms employee at a poultry facility in the U.S. tested positive earlier this week, which resulted in the employee and six others being sent home for isolation. The plant did not shut down.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated several times. The last update was published around 6pm MDT, March 27.