More than 300 USDA meat inspectors sidelined by coronavirus

Tribune Content Agency

More than 300 federal meatpacking inspectors are either sick from coronavirus or in self-quarantine after exposure to the virus.

As of Tuesday, 197 inspectors from the Food Safety and Inspection Service had tested positive for the virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. Another 120 employees are under quarantine.

The FSIS has about 8,000 employees, and a USDA spokesman said “our dedicated personnel are still meeting all of their inspection responsibilities so that consumers can continue to enjoy a safe supply of meat and poultry products.”

But the growing number of infected inspectors illustrates the breadth of the outbreaks at meatpacking plants. Thousands of workers have been infected, dozens of plants have been idled and the plants that have remained in operation are generally running at reduced capacity because of worker absenteeism.

A USDA spokesman said the FSIS is allowing part-time inspectors to work more hours to make up for inspectors who aren’t able to work. Slower production and shuttered plants has also helped the service keep up, since there is less need for inspection.

FSIS now has enough masks and face coverings on hand to keep inspection personnel supplied for “the next few months,” the USDA said.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We thank those working on the front lines of our food supply chain for remaining on the job and for making sure the American people have access to safe food.”


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