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Officials quash fears about imported US meat

Fears about meat for sale in Bermuda that was processed in factories whose workforces have been hit by Covid-19 have been quashed by health officials.

The outbreak of the disease has forced meatpacking factories in several US states to close, including Smithfield Foods' pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has recorded the largest cluster of the disease in the US.

Consumers on the island raised concerns after they bought Smithfield pork products then learnt of the outbreak.

But the Department of Health said the meat sold at groceries across the island did not pose a health risk.

A spokeswoman for the department explained: “The current scientific view is that the novel coronavirus is not spread via foodstuffs.”

The United States Foods and Drug Administration has said “there is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States or imported from countries affected by Covid-19 can transmit Covid 19”.

About 700 workers at the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls have tested positive for the disease and at least one has died.

More than a hundred additional cases have been linked to the factory, the ninth-largest pig-processing centre in the US.

A 72-year-old Pembroke man said he became concerned about the Smithfield Covid-19 several days after he bought one of the company's hams.

He said: “I was looking on the internet and came across the story about the Smithfield pork company, where there were several employees that had become infected with the virus. The story struck me because Smithfield hams are very popular here in Bermuda.

He added: “We only buy ham basically for Christmas and maybe for Easter, but in these times we found that a ham can stretch for at least two meals plus you can make soup afterwards.

“We had one about a week before Easter and it got us thinking are these hams safe? I know it's an airborne virus but it still makes you wonder.”

The Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls pork-processing plant employs 3,700 people, the fourth-largest employer in the city.

The first Covid-19 case at the factory was confirmed on March 24 and the employee's death was announced on April 16.

Despite of the outbreak and fears among staff on a production line where they stood less than a foot apart from co-workers on either side, the plant remained operational because it was listed as a “critical infrastructure industry” by the US Government.

But it was closed on April 12 under pressure from the South Dakota Governor's office.

The factory by then was the number one Covid-19 hotspot in the US, with 644 cases among Smithfield employees and people they had been in contact with.

The company also announced the closure of two plants in Wisconsin and Missouri on April 15.

The previous top cluster was 585 cases aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific.

Smithfield-related Covid-19 infections account for 55 per cent of cases in South Dakota, well above the per-head figures recorded in its far more populated Midwestern neighbouring states.

Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Hormel are among other US companies which have been forced to close meat-processing plants because of the pandemic.

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Published April 22, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2020 at 8:25 am)

Officials quash fears about imported US meat

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