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10,000 Employees of This Food Giant Have Contracted COVID-19

A new report shows just how expansive the coronavirus outbreak has been in meat-processing facilities.
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Meat-packing plants were among the hardest hit places in the earliest weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. But while alarmist warnings of disrupted food supply chains have largely gone away since then, and grocers' meat cases are now fully stocked, we're just learning how extensively the virus spread in these facilities. According to a recent report, over 10,000 employees of food processing giant Tyson foods contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

This stunning number comes from a study conducted by the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), which was released Thursday, July 30. The report also revealed that nearly 50,000 meatpacking, food processing, and farmworkers in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19 since March.

On the same day this report came out, Tyson Foods announced aggressive plans to deal with COVID-19 by launching weekly on-site coronavirus testing for all of its employees at its nearly 150 U.S. production facilities. This makes Tyson one of the first major American employers to commit to such regular and expansive testing of its workforce, according to The Washington Post. Tyson also plans on hiring a chief medical officer and 200 nurses to administer coronavirus tests, according to their statement.

"While the protective measures we've implemented in our facilities are working well, we remain vigilant about keeping our team members safe and are always evaluating ways to do more," Donnie King, Tyson Foods group president, and the chief administrative officer said in the announcement.

"The company is continually tracking active COVID-19 cases involving company team members as well as the case levels in the communities where the company operates," Tyson Foods said in a statement. They also claimed that less than one percent of the food giant's workforce of 120,000 team members currently has active COVID-19.

The CDC has made it clear that there is no evidence of anyone contracting the coronavirus from food purchased at your local grocery store. So, news of infected food processing workers does not mean there is an increased risk for those buying packaged meat. The more pressing issue are the ill-effects COVID-19 outbreaks have on food supply chains.

Sharp spikes in processing factories in March and April led to serious concerns about supply meeting demand, fast-food chains removing burgers from their menu, and grocers limiting meat purchases, all due to outbreaks in meat-packing facilities. In April, Tyson said that "millions of pounds of meat" will disappear from grocery store shelves with closures of meat processing facilities due to COVID-19 outbreaks among workers.

Tyson's consumer brands include Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, and Sara Lee and saw revenue dropped 15% in the second quarter of this year as a result of the pandemic, according to Forbes. While concerns over food supply issues have gone away, we now know just how widespread the contagion had gone. For some encouraging news on food supply, check out Expect to See These Hard-to-Find Grocery Items Back on Shelves.