Updated: Health officials address COVID-19 outbreak at local poultry plant – KBTX

BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) – More than two dozen employees have tested positive with COVID-19 at a poultry processing plant in Brazos County, KBTX has confirmed.

An outbreak of COVID-19 cases have been linked to a Sanderson Farms poultry processing plant in Bryan, KBTX has confirmed.

Several employees at the Sanderson Farms facility in Bryan have reached out to KBTX and shared concerns about working conditions inside the plant on Shiloh Avenue and the increasing number of workers who are testing positive for the virus.

As of Monday morning, at least 26 COVID-19 cases in Brazos County were linked to Sanderson Farms and its employees, according to records kept by the Brazos County Health District.

Dr. Seth Sullivan on Monday afternoon during a news briefing estimated between 10 to 15 of the cases were reported in the last week. He also said the company has been cooperative with the Brazos County Health District in tracking and monitoring patients and their contacts.

Click here to watch Monday’s briefing.

Dr. Sullivan also said state health officials are aware of the situation and are closely monitoring it. He said a strike team getting involved is a response that is possible, although it hasn’t occurred at this time.

Sanderson Farms told KBTX in April the company began taking extra steps at its Bryan facility after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. Workers who have asked to remain anonymous for fear they could lose their job tell News 3’s Rusty Surette they feel those policies have become lax over time and are not fully enforced.

One employee tells us many of the cases are coming from an area of the plant where the chicken is packaged, labeled, and then sent out for shipping.

KBTX has reached out to Sanderson Farms for their response to the concerns.

The U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals, according to the Food and Drug Administration. There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19 regardless of the status of the worker in a plant, according to the federal agency.

“The FDA does not anticipate that food products will need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market should a person that works on a farm or in a food facility test positive for COVID-19,” the FDA states on its website.

Last month, a spokeswoman from the Sanderson Farms corporate office said the company had identified and mandated employees who work in close proximity with others who test positive to self-quarantine for 14 days with pay.

“If they do not experience fever or other symptoms of COVID-19, they are asked to return to work after 14 days. We are unable to disclose any specific details related to these individuals due to privacy laws,” said Hilary Burroughs, Director of Marketing for Sanderson Farms.

“While there are no known indications that COVID-19 is transferable through food, our safety team is following guidance from public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization,” said Burroughs.

“At Sanderson Farms, we believe everyone deserves access to safe, quality chicken — especially in times of uncertainty. Now more than ever, it is important that we do what is necessary to continue operating at the highest level possible to ensure a constant supply of safe, high-quality chicken to our nation,” said Burroughs.

The company last month provided us with a list of changes at the facility include:
-Installation of additional hand sanitizing stations throughout their facilities.

-Checking temperatures of employees before they enter facilities; if over 100°F, the employee is sent home with pay until cleared to return by a healthcare provider.

-Notifying and coordinating response procedures with all pertinent parties (local health officials, onsite USDA inspector, Sanderson Farms HR, and facility Division Manager).

-Notifying associates who were potentially exposed to the affected employee and asking them to self-quarantine for 14 days with pay.

-Thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the entire facility beyond the full sanitation that all of the company’s facilities undergo every 24 hours, and with additional sanitization conducted in high traffic areas. These procedures strictly follow the CDC guidelines for this process.

Precautions include travel restrictions for employees, growers, contractors, and vendors.

“Our top priority is keeping our employees safe and healthy. Sanderson Farms is doing everything it can to protect its employees while they are at work,” said Sanderson Farms president and COO Lampkin Butts. “The company consults daily with physicians and other health experts on how best to ensure employee wellbeing.”

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