Coronavirus spreads beyond meat plants with outbreaks at 60 US baking, agricultural, dairy facilities, raising specter of food shortages

It’s a grim reality that’s playing out across the country as COVID-19 spreads beyond the meat plants that have captured the national spotlight. At least 60 food-processing facilities outside the meatpacking industry have seen outbreaks, with more than 1,000 workers diagnosed with the virus, according to a new study from Environmental Working Group.

The food processing and supply system in the US is not designed to withstand a pandemic. The most vulnerable link has been the workers who have minimal protective gear and often need to come into work even if they feel ill because of no paid sick leave.

About 35% of food processing and dairy facilities have had at least one confirmed COVID-19 case, according to an International Brotherhood of Teamsters survey in May of union locals representing 79 plants. Roughly 80% of employers weren’t testing for the virus and more than a quarter of the workplaces didn’t allow employees to physically distance themselves 6 feet apart, the survey showed.