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O’Brien Fine Foods says its Timahoe factory has been closed since Wednesday

“In all cases, the level of asymptomatic infectivity appears to be very high,”O’Brien Fine Foods said in a statement.

O’Brien Fine Foods plant which produces in the village of Timahoe, Kildare.
O’Brien Fine Foods plant which produces in the village of Timahoe, Kildare.
Image: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

ONE OF THE meat factories that has been linked to a surge in cases in Kildare, Offaly and Laois has repeated a statement it made last week that its affected facility has been closed as a precautionary measure since 9pm last Wednesday.

It comes as questions are being asked of what protocols were in place in meat factories after 112 of 174 cases announced nationwide yesterday were linked to clusters in four meat processing factories, or close contacts of confirmed cases. 

110 of the 174 cases were from Co Kildare, 7 were from Offaly and one was from Laois.

In a statement released today, O’Brien Fine Foods said it suspended all processing operations at its Timahoe facility in Co Kildare as a precautionary measure after 86 of more than 240 staff members tested positive last Tuesday.

“In all cases, the level of asymptomatic infectivity appears to be very high,” a statement by the company said.

O’Brien Fine Foods said that after two bouts of testing by the HSE and a private provider on Wednesday 5 August and Friday 7 August, the company took several actions: 

  • Operations: Normal operations will not resume for the 14-day incubation period (4 to 18 August 2020). In consultation with the HSE, O’Brien’s warehousing facility and related operations will function at “significantly reduced capacity levels to manage perishable goods”
  • Testing during suspension: Further testing of employees will be conducted on days 7 and 14 (as necessary). Only employees who test negative and meet public health guidelines in full will return to work. All staff will continue to be paid in full, the company said.
  • Testing upon full recommencement of operations: Upon recommencement of processing operations, the company said it would test its employees at 14 day intervals
  • Transport: To mitigate the risk of transmission, arrangements will be put in place for the safe transportation of all employees to and from work.

These actions were taken in line with public health guidance, the company said.

“In consultation with the HSE,” he said, “we have taken what we believe was the most responsible actions at all times, putting a rigorous health and safety policy in place, testing all employees, undertaking a further deep clean of the facility, and ultimately suspending processing operations.”

Another meat factory in Naas, Co Kildare was also a confirmed site of a cluster in Kildare and shut its operation after more than 30 staff members tested positive. 

SIPTU had asked the HSE to explain why workers who were tested for Covid-19 at the Kildare Chilling plant were then allowed to return to work in the factory before their test results came back.

RTÉ is now reporting that its processing operations have now been suspended.

Words from the Agriculture Minister

Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary was asked on RTÉ’s This Week why one of the four plants are still open, despite a cluster having been confirmed there.

Rolling testing every 14 days has been agreed for meat plants, Calleary said. “That’s something I want to see rolled out.” He added that it hasn’t been confirmed who will pay for these bouts of testing.

When asked about 95% of meat plant workers not being entitled to sick pay, and whether that practice needed to change, Calleary said:

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“My Department is responsible for the animal health and animal welfare… but we do need a longterm discussion around work conditions in meat factories.”

He said that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was in place for any worker who needs to self isolate.

Oversight of meat factories

Yesterday, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that meat factories had been subjected to similar rigorous health inspections that pubs and restaurants had.

“Ireland was the first country in Europe to introduce protocols for the meat factories, and very extensive testing was done,” he said, referring to the start of the pandemic when 1,100 cases in meat factories were confirmed.

“There were very, very few cases all the way through July, so the measures were working – there were temperature checks, screenings, masks, perspex, inspections.”

The Health and Safety Authority has said it has undertaken 33 inspections covering each of the meat processing plants connected with a Covid-19 outbreak, along with a number of other plants.

Meat Industry Ireland said robust protocols are in place across all plants, and are to meet with workers this week.

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