CORONAVIRUS

More than 300 USDA meat inspectors sidelined by coronavirus

USDA says it has enough employees to cover plants

Workers trim beef at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, Neb., in this 2012 photo. (Kansas City Star/TNS)
Workers trim beef at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, Neb., in this 2012 photo. (Kansas City Star/TNS)

More than 300 federal meatpacking inspectors either are 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 food safety service 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 also has helped the service keep up as there is less need for inspection.

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The food safety service 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.

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