March 23, 2020 / 6:56 PM / in 9 days

Sanderson Farms slaughterhouse worker tests positive for COVID-19

CHICAGO, March 23 (Reuters) - U.S. chicken company Sanderson Farms Inc said on Monday that a slaughterhouse worker was infected with the new coronavirus, the first publicly confirmed positive test of a worker in a U.S. meat plant, though the plant is not closing.

Farmers and traders have been worried that slaughterhouses could shut if workers or government inspectors fall ill. Closures would remove markets for farmers to sell their livestock and threaten to tighten meat supplies as consumers are stocking up due to concerns about the pandemic.

Sanderson said the infected worker was an employee at its McComb, Mississippi, processing plant and that the person's work area was contained to one small processing table. The plant processes 1.3 million birds a week, about 9.5% of the company's total capacity, according to Sanderson's website.

The company sent home the infected employee, along with six others, with pay to isolate themselves, according to a statement. It said the company also thoroughly cleaned the affected work area and other facilities.

"Recognizing that very few of Sanderson Farms' employees can do their jobs remotely, the company's processing and production sites are continuously evaluating staffing needs, as well as on-site health and safety measures to manage through this pandemic," the statement said.

Sanderson has increased its production of chicken for grocery stores to refill refrigerated meat cases emptied by shoppers unnerved by the virus.

Meat companies like Tyson Foods Inc have also been shifting supplies of chicken, beef and pork to supermarkets from restaurants and checking the temperatures of slaughterhouse workers to make sure they are not sick. (Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago Additional reporting by Chris Walljasper; Editing by Tom Brown)

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