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Food inspectors discuss changes at food processing plants

Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 21:26:01-04

(NBC 26) -- Wisconsin meat inspectors are staying busy right now as more and more, smaller meat processing facilities continue to increase their workload.

"There has been a slight uptick in demand for slaughter inspections and we're meeting that. There's a concern particularly in the pork industry right now. Some very large plants have closed," says Steve Ingham, the Administrator of Wisconsin's Division of Food and Recreational Safety.

Ingham says smaller-scale meat processing operations may be getting busier, but operations today are being run more or less the same.

"Very little change other than we're very very conscience of social distancing."

With fewer employees at some of the smaller meat processing facilities, Ingham says social distancing is a bit more manageable. But at processing plants with hundreds of employees, often working in tight quarters, Ingham says keeping 6 feet away from one another can be very difficult.

"In a disassembly line there are a lot of employees in the factory and they can get close together. There are pinch points in break rooms, locker rooms, things like that. What I hear is the meat plants are working to eliminate those pinch points and get the distancing in there," says Ingham.

To help stop the trend of meat processing workers contracting COVID-19 some larger plants have started installing plastic shields placed between workstations. Management has also reportedly begun staggering breaks and start times for employees to cut down on crowds forming. And today we're also starting to hear about some plants trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the number of employees in the building.

"Some of those adjustments, look to me like they may slow things down a bit at those plants," says Ingham.