Guidance to Meat Slaughter and Processing Establishments on Prevention and Response to Suspect and Confirmed COVID-19 Plant Employees

Effective Date

This guidance takes effect on March 31, 2020.

Introduction

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada’s people, environment and economy.

The CFIA will continue to deliver critical services that serve to preserve the integrity of Canada’s food safety system while safeguarding its animal and plant resource base.

Appropriate oversight of domestic production and imported food products is essential to meeting that objective while also supporting trade and the supply chain, including through the certification of exports.

The CFIA is committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees while maintaining that oversight, through critical inspection services.

The CFIA recognizes COVID-19 prevention and response activities at slaughter establishments to be a critical element for employee health and safety.

Establishment Requirements

In order to protect the health and safety of its employees, the CFIA expects that each establishment operator abide by the advice and guidance provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as well as by local Public Health Authorities in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak.

This general public health guidance should be tailored to the specific needs and realities of individual establishments/operations, documented and thoroughly implemented.

Establishments are required to have COVID-19 prevention documentation which clearly articulates mitigation measures intended to address exposure risks. It is recognized that certain public health measures may not be possible in plant operations; documentation should recognize this and outline the mitigation measures that are place.

Establishments are also required to have documentation that outlines its response to a suspect and confirmed case of COVID-19.

Mitigation and response planning documents:

  • describe the measures that have been put in place to prevent or minimize the occurrence or exposure of COVID-19.
  • Examples include:
    1. Procedure or Policy documents
    2. Sanitation practices/schedules/locations
    3. Approach taken regarding physical distancing
    4. Self/company health assessment protocols / practices and description of screening methods in place or any supporting procedural documents
    5. Policy for your staff to report their, or their colleagues illness and corresponding notification to CFIA of any COVID-19 finding
  • describe the specific response/action plans that will be implemented when there is a finding of a COVID-19 positive employee.

These documents are critical and will be expected by the CFIA to maintain CFIA oversight at slaughter establishments.

Discussions between the operator and CFIA are required in the development of mitigation and response plans to maximize opportunities for mitigation measures while maintaining the ability of both plant and CFIA personnel to continue their functions.

For example where physical distancing of two meters is the public health guidance but cannot easily be accommodated, it may be possible to adjust on-site inspection practices and frequencies, increase the distance between CFIA employees and plant staff or to adjust traffic patterns through the plant to avoid “people-congested” areas.

Additional examples of potential concerns and practical mitigation measures are included as an Annex to this document.

Procedures Operators

Operators are to include the following procedures in their COVID-19 response plans.

  1. The operator shall notify the CFIA immediately upon receipt of information of:
    • a public health request for COVID-19 testing of a plant employee
    • a COVID-19 positive employee
  2. Information provided should include all pertinent details such as:
    • The date of confirmed diagnosis (if applicable)
    • The date of onset of symptoms and if the employee was at the establishment
    • The locations at the establishment where the employee delivered their functions, were likely present (lunch room, etc.) or travelled through (specific corridors, stairways, etc.)
    • Any other information relevant to identifying individuals who may have had contact with the positive employee.
  3. When receiving information of a COVID-19 positive employee, the operator shall notify local public health authorities of the positive employee and request their assistance in determining the risks to their other employees and the risk to CFIA employees who also work at their establishment.Should the local public health authority not be able to provide assistance in the determination of risks to other employees, the operator shall seek the support of other expert advice to develop and implement the appropriate remediation plans, including ensuring appropriate action to be taken with individuals potentially exposed to the COVID-19 positive employee.
  4. CFIA will ask the operator to provide information and documents to support an appropriate assessment of the risk to CFIA employees. While CFIA will consider the protocols/procedures in place by individual establishments, plus the particularities of the positive plant employee (where on the line, what kind of work, common areas with our employees, time spent with our employee, etc.) and ideally the advice from local public health, in the interim, if CFIA can’t get this advice quickly, the Agency will need to consider the other information to the best of its abilities and weigh the potential risk to our workforce with the impact on establishment operations/animal welfare.
  5. CFIA will consult with the local health authority to conduct a joint site visit at the establishment. The purpose will be to appropriately determine the health impacts to CFIA staff due to the confirmation of a COVID-19 positive plant employee.
  6. In addition to the local health authority and an establishment representative, a CFIA team will be identified and will include experienced slaughter/meat processing staff, Health and Safety Committee or Representative member, and if necessary to provide technical advice the Area OSH Coordinator/Advisor as well as appropriate CFIA management.
  7. This site visit should be viewed as an inspection/investigation to gain more facts and understanding of the situation. Outlined below are some of the outcomes sought from the joint site visit.
  8. Slaughter operators are reminded to consult with suppliers and CFIA regarding receipt of live animals should production be affected.

Outcomes:

  • In collaboration with CFIA management and using information already collected, local public health authorities will make decisions regarding exposure to plant and CFIA employees, their need for self-quarantine and/or referral to health services for testing.
  • Based on the information gathered above, some CFIA employees may be deemed to have had negligible risk and can be cleared for further work
  • An assessment of the operator’s plans for additional mitigation measures for COVID-19 will be jointly evaluated. Results from the previous request by CFIA for written information from the company will be used by both CFIA and local public health authorities in the determination of when or if work can recommence.

Further Information

Enquiries concerning the content of this guidance may be directed to your local CFIA office. Questions may also be sent by email.

This document will continue to be updated as new requirements and information are identified.

Annex

Key Concern: Employees do not have the ability to maintain the physical distance recommended by PHAC in specific areas of the plant.

Mitigation: Changes to employee behavior regarding moving within the plant, communicating between employees and access control to specific areas (i.e. CFIA office). Examples of mitigation measures include:

  • Stopping the line (reducing the noise level) to properly communicate a critical issue and eliminate the need for “close contact communication” in loud environment (anticipated to be infrequent).
  • Require the operator to have an employee closer (~2m) to the inspector on viscera to enable regular communication without moving through the kill floor.
  • Adjust on-site inspection practices and frequencies to increase the distance between CFIA employees and plant staff coupled with adjusting travel patterns through the plant to avoid people-congested areas.
  • Discourage non-essential communication between employees on the kill floor due to the noise level to reduce the occurrences of close contact and to adopt alternate communication practices like phone and email for essential communication.
  • Further restrict access to certain areas in the plant by employees by adjusting sanitation schedules and installing an in/out box outside of the CFIA office for example for exchanging documentation.

Key Concern: That not all employees are following public health advice or establishment protocols regarding general hygiene to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission away from food production areas.

Mitigation: Employees are required to immediately raise concerns to their supervisor for discussion and resolution.

Source: https://www.inspection.gc.ca/covid-19/cfia-information-for-industry/guidance-to-meat-slaughter-and-processing-establis/eng/1585620151816/1585620617343