Up to ten new coronavirus cases have been linked to a factory where employees claim they’ve been told not to wear masks because they are food hazards.
The Karro Food Group pork processing plant in Scunthorpe, one of the country’s largest food producers, has been criticised by employees for its coronavirus measures.
Workers have reported a spate of cases over the last week, though the company claims they were infected through ‘community contact’.
It also insists that it is following all government guidelines.
One employee at the factory, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘Staff are dropping like flies and being sent home. There’s around ten confirmed cases now.
‘We have plastic screens up but that’s about it. Staff have been trying to wear masks on the factory floor but been told to remove them or leave.
‘Apparently face masks are classed as food hazards, but hair nets and snoods aren’t.
The Karro Food Group pork processing plant in Scunthorpe has reported several cases of coronavirus in the last week
‘People are getting texts from Test and Trace now, telling them to get a test as they’ve been somewhere where people have tested positive.
‘The factory has worked all through lockdown and now people are going off with the virus, they still refuse to close. It is putting not only their staff at risk but their families too.’
Staff claim they haven’t been allowed to wear face masks on the factory floor until this week.
The UK food factories ravaged by coronavirus outbreaks among workers
October 6: Karro Food Group pork processing plant in Scunthorpe
September 30: Pilgrim’s Pride food factory in Pool, near Redruth, Cornwall
September 23: Greggs factory in Newcastle
September 11: Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire pudding factory in Hull
September 2: Millers of Speyside in Scottish Highlands
August 26: Food Standard’s Authority reveal there are at least 40 active outbreaks at factories in the UK
August 22: Banham Poultry in Attleborough, Norfolk
August 21: Greencore in Northampton
August 20: Cranswick in Ballymena, Northern Ireland
August 18: Bakkavor in Newark
August 17: 2 Sisters Food Group in Coupar Angus, Tayside
August 17: Fyffes in Coventry, West Midlands
August 13: Greencore in Northampton
July 12: AS Green and Co, Herefordshire
July 3: Walkers, Leicester
June 26: Tulip, Tipton
June 24: Kepak Food Group in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
June 23: Princes, Wisebech
June 19: Asda, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire
June 19: Rowan Foods in Wrexham, Wales
June 17: 2 Sisters food factory in Anglesey, North Wales
May 15: Cranswick, Barnsley
May 11: Moy Park in Dungannon, Northern Ireland
The Karro Food Group, based in North Yorkshire, is one of the country’s largest food processors. Along with Young’s Seafood, it is owned by the Eight Fifty Group.
The Scunthorpe plant is a dedicated bacon and gammon slicing facility.
Another employee at the Foxhills factory said: ‘People have been sent home when they were told that people close to them have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
‘What they are doing to staff is unfair. On Friday, everyone was wearing masks on the floor – but that was the first time in nine months.
‘A friend of mine wore a mask at one point, and was told he wasn’t allowed – he needed to remove it or go home.’
A former employee who is still close with many people who work there said: ‘A lot of staff are very worried at it is constantly being played down. They have heard there are at least ten cases now.’
North Lincolnshire has seen an increase in coronavirus cases over recent weeks, with public health officials warning people to take care both at work and home.
Earlier this year, Karro advertised for more than 100 roles in Scunthorpe to meet the demand from supermarkets during lockdown.
A Karro Food Limited spokesperson said: ‘We have a small number of unrelated Covid-19 cases which are as a result of community contact.
‘The workers and close contacts are now self-isolating at home.
‘We are continuing to follow government guidelines and doing everything possible to protect our people.’
The pandemic has decimated food factories across the UK, with significant outbreaks seen in at least 22 and as many as 62.
Some of Britain’s biggest food processing sites have been hit by Covid outbreaks during the pandemic, affecting giants such as Greggs and Marks and Spencer.
Experts have previously warned that outbreaks are common in factories as the virus thrives in cold, damp and indoor environments, particularly on cool surfaces and a lack of breeze or ultraviolet light from the sun means the moisture remains and can’t be killed off.
In August, Marks and Spencer was hit with a sandwich shortage after its supplier was forced to close its factory amid a surge in coronavirus cases among workers.
Greencore, which manufactures own-label sandwiches for the retailer, announced a temporary closure of its Northampton plant for at least two weeks after 292 staff tested positive for the virus.
The move left refrigerated aisles empty of lunchtime favourites like prawn mayonnaise, BLT, and chicken salad for shoppers and office workers around the country.
The Karro Food Group, based in North Yorkshire, is one of the country’s largest food processors
It came as the Food Standards Agency revealed even at that stage that there were at least 40 active outbreaks in factories in England alone – with more recorded in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Dr Colin Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA, admitted at the time the figure is not comprehensive, and may be higher, but said: ‘The number that I mentioned, was one we are content to make public. It is a small number of a big total.’
Chilled and damp interior with ultraviolet light: Why meat plants are a hotbed for coronavirus outbreaks
The virus thrives in cold, damp and indoor environments, particularly on cool surfaces.
The lack of a breeze or ultraviolet light from the sun means the moisture remains and can’t be killed off inside food processing plants.
Furthermore, social distancing is particularly difficult in workplaces with a busy production line meaning the virus is likely to spread more easily.
Loud machinery also forces people to raise their voices and researchers say situations where people have to shout result in an increased risk of projecting the virus to others.
It’s not just in the UK where a trend has been seen, either, after hundreds tested positive in a Berlin slaughterhouse, while a wet market in Wuhan is believed to have been at the heart of a huge number of infections early on in the crisis.
A huge chicken factory in Norfolk was another that was forced to close after 75 workers tested positive for coronavirus. It resulted in 350 families put into Covid isolation.
Banham Poultry, in the village of Attleborough, voluntarily agreed to close its cutting room following an outbreak of the virus.
Other major food producers, such as Cranswick and 2 Sisters Food Group, have also closed plants following a surge in cases among staff.
Experts have suggested the cold conditions inside the plants may be conducive to the spread of the virus.
Although the FSA’s statement only mentions factories in England, there have already been cases of plants closes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A chicken processing plant run by 2 Sisters in Coupar Angus, Scotland, has seen the number of cases among its staff pass well over 100, forcing it to close, while a facility run by Cranswick in County Antrim became the first in Northern Ireland to be shut down because of a surge in cases.
Plants in Anglesey and Wrexham in Wales were among the first in the UK to register a crisis in cases among staff, forcing them to close.
Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, previously told MailOnline that it was notable that food factories seemed to have been the centre of outbreaks more than other factories where people might be close together.
He said: ‘There are problems in this country, in Germany, in the United States. There is something common between them – it’s not happening in engineering or clothing factories where you also might expect people to be in close proximity to one another.
‘One assumes – but it’s just an idea – that the cold environment makes people more susceptible to the virus.
‘Cold weather irritates the airways and the cells become more susceptible to viral infection.’