2 Sisters produces a third of all poultry products consumed in the UK from a number of sites
Nearly 100 workers at two food processing plants which supply to Tesco and other supermarkets have tested positive for coronavirus.
Public Health Wales confirmed 58 cases at 2 Sisters chicken factory in Llangefni on Anglesey, with more than 200 people said to be self-isolating.
In Wrexham, 38 staff have tested positive at Rowan Foods, which makes food for supermarkets across the UK.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the outbreak was a “concern”.
He said it “reiterates the importance of social distancing and hand hygiene”.
Other countries have also recorded outbreaks in meat processing plants, including in iFrance and the US, where workers in at least two food factories have died amid outbreaks.
2 Sisters, which has contracts with KFC, Tesco and Marks & Spencer has suspended production and closed following the outbreak.
As of Wednesday, union officials said they were aware more than a third of the 560-strong workforce at the Anglesey chicken processing plant were self-isolating.
The company had introduced thermal temperature checks and employed marshalls to ensure social distancing was maintained.
Meanwhile Rowan Foods, which employs 1,500 people, said 38 staff were “absent due to testing positive for Covid-19”.
The company, owned by Oscar Meyer Quality Foods, makes prepared foods for companies across the UK, including Aldi, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
In a statement, it said none of the staff were “seriously ill or had been hospitalised” and contact tracing was taking place.
‘Doing the right thing’
2 Sisters – which also supplies food to major supermarkets such as Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – said “the health, safety and well-being of our colleagues is ultimately the thing that matters most at our business”.
“In light of the current Covid-19 cases at our Llangefni site, we have decided to take the necessary action to clearly demonstrate how seriously we take this issue by doing the right thing.
“Doing the right thing means from today [18 June] we will temporarily suspend production at our Llangefni site with immediate effect for a period of 14 days.
“We will not tolerate any unnecessary risks – however small – for our existing loyal workforce at the facility.”
Skip Twitter post by @RhunapIorwerth
Spoken with 2 Sisters management this morning – decision taken late last night to suspend operations at the chicken processing plant in #Llangefni following significant #covid19 outbreak. It’s the correct decision to safeguard staff and the public.
— Rhun ap Iorwerth (@RhunapIorwerth) June 18, 2020
2 Sisters Food Group is one of the largest food producers in the UK, with brands including Fox’s Biscuits and Holland’s Pies.
It also produces about a third of all the poultry products eaten each day in the UK.
There were 11 confirmed new Covid-19 cases in Anglesey on Wednesday and 11 further on Thursday – the most in any Welsh county on both days – and the health minister is “concerned” the outbreak will lead to more cases.
“Given that this is a closed setting in which these people would have been working, I’m obviously concerned that we may well see more confirmed cases of coronavirus,” Mr Gething told the Welsh government’s daily briefing.
Wales’ health minister says the outbreak “reiterates the importance of social distancing and appropriate hygiene measures”
He added the outbreak “reiterates the fact that even with a low prevalence of coronavirus, it hasn’t gone.”
“It also reiterates the importance of our test, trace, protect system – and that people really do need to follow the advice that they’re given on getting a test, and on self isolating.”
PHW said it was “working in partnership” with 2 Sisters, Anglesey council, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the Health and Safety Executive and the Food Standards Agency to “manage the incident”.
“We are working in close collaboration with the employer and Anglesey council, and our priority is to bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion,” said Dr Christopher Johnson.
2 Sisters thanked authorities for their “advice, scientific knowledge and support”.
“We are a responsible company with people at its core. Without our people we are nothing,” added its company statement.
“Our sole focus now is to ensure we support all our colleagues through this time and look forward to operating safely and securely in 14 days’ time.”
Social distancing ‘virtually impossible’
More than 1,000 workers at the Gütersloh plant, in Germany, have been tested after an outbreak at the meat processing plant
The factory on Anglesey is not the first to have found itself at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, thousands of people in Germany were told to quarantine after 650 workers tested positive for the virus at a meat processing plant.
Last month, Germany agreed a proposal banning the use of temporary workers at abattoirs following a spate of infections in Münster and Coesfeld, North Rhine-Westphalia.
Paddy McNaught, the regional organiser for the union Unite, said the number of cases of coronavirus at the Anglesey factory had risen “significantly” in the past few days.
“In fairness, the company, they have tried to work with us to provide a safe working environment, where social distancing – as best as it can – takes place,” he said.
But the union official added that production line work at the plant mean adhering to the distancing rule had been “virtually impossible” and there had been the “usual” concerns from staff about “social distancing and face masks”.
He added that the union would be working with the company to make sure the factory had a professional deep clean before workers were allowed back at the site.
In Wales, employers are required by law to make sure workers can socially distance while in the workplace.
They must do everything they can to keep employees 2m (6ft) apart or face a fine of up to £120.