Maple Leaf Foods has temporarily suspended its pork exports to China after employees at its Brandon, Man., and Lethbridge, Alta., plants tested positive for COVID-19, the company said in a news release on Tuesday.
The meat processor said the decision was made due to a new protocol by China that requires any plant that reports a COVID-19 case to suspend exports to China temporarily.
“We respect China’s new import protocols for Canadian products and are working cooperatively with Canadian and Chinese authorities to resume exports quickly,” Maple Leaf president and CEO Michael McCain said in the release.
The company told CBC that as of Wednesday, there were 60 cases of COVID-19 at its Brandon plant and one in Lethbridge.
The company also said its own investigations along with those of public health officials “indicate there is no evidence of workplace transmission occurring at the plant.”
An employee at the Brandon plant, however, who did not want his name and department identified, said he felt “depressed and unsafe” in an interview with The Brandon Sun on Aug. 12.
“During the work, it’s OK,” he said, adding that the washroom and break room can be crowded sometimes making physical distancing difficult, and workers sometimes don’t wear masks when they should.
“Many people are changing in there … some don’t wear the mask and some take it off when they change clothes,” said the man, who has worked at the plant for a decade.
In the cafeteria, he said, “there is no social distancing. Space is less than one metre. … The distance is very close and we have to take our masks off to eat.”
The company maintained that it has taken safety measures to protect its employees.
“Maple Leaf Foods is taking to provide a safe work environment and prevent workplace spread of COVID-19, including temperature and health screening, face coverings, barriers between workspaces where possible, social distancing, monitoring and enforcement protocols.”
As for the potential for food to transmit the virus, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says on its website there’s no evidence of that happening.
“There is no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus,” it says. “At this time, there have been no reported cases of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.”