Meatpackers pressured into improving work conditions

In the meat industry, more than 16,000 plant employees in 23 states were infected with COVID-19.

Butchers at Old Fashion Country Butcher process meat as they work to meet increased demand due to COVID-19 related shortages on May 21, 2020 in Santa Paula, California. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

On Friday, two meat packing companies installed ultraviolet air cleaning equipment in some of their U.S. plants after workers complained of dangerous working conditions due to COVID-19.

The two companies, JBS USA, whose parent firm is Brazilian-owned, JBS SA, and Tyson Foods Inc. installed the equipment as a new safety precaution for their workers, Reuters reported.

READ MORE: Has the coronavirus put our meat supply at risk?

The equipment uses “bipolar ionization to neutralize particulates in the air, including virus cells and bacteria,“ however, it is uncertain how effective these air treatment systems are against the coronavirus.

Regardless of the outcome, JSA is committed to gathering information on its air treatment system, Reuters reported.

Former employees and their families have said JSA and Tyson instructed workers who were sick to show up for work. The family of a Pennsylvania plant worker who died from COVID-19 complications sued JBS SA for failing to protect him.

In the meat industry, more than 16,000 plant employees in 23 states were infected with COVID-19. 86 workers died due to the respiratory disease.

The companies were also said to have been hesitant to practice social distancing and enforce mask usage.

Although an air filtration system may be a good first step, meat companies should consult with engineers to certify workplaces have fresh air, according to a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

READ MORE: Meat workers may defy Trump’s order to keep plants open

COVID-19 can survive longer in low temperatures, which is unfortunate for meatpackers as operational practices require low temperatures and close interactions.

Meatpackers in Germany were shuttered in light of an outbreak in their industry. The outbreak forced the country to review infection risks posed by their cooling systems, Reuters reported.

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