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Coronavirus shutters three foodbev factories

Tiger Brands and Fry Group Foods in KZN, as well Coca-Cola in Gauteng, have had to temporarily close plants this week due to Covid-19 infections.

Tiger Brands has closed its Albany Bakery on Durban’s South Coast Road after 12 employees from the administrative division of plant tested positive for the virus.

In a statement, Tiger Brands said that none of the infected employees worked on the production line or was involved in the delivery of the product to customers.

Tiger Brands said an employee who reported for duty was advised to seek medical attention after reporting feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. The employee was confirmed positive on April 9.

“All employees who had come into close contact with the individual were identified, and sent for precautionary testing and self-isolation, as they were asymptomatic. The testing was subsequently extended to all staff in the administration building, where the first patient worked.

“The results were received on Wednesday and 12 employees tested positive and are in self isolation,” the statement reads.

“Naturally, we appreciate that this may cause concerns around food safety regarding bread. According to the WHO, NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.”

Tiger Brands said its bread- manufacturing process was highly automated – from mixing, to baking, to slicing, to sealing in tamper-proof bags and crating.

“In the event of a positive Covid-19 case, we have developed specific protocols to mitigate the risk of any environmental or surface contamination.

“This includes isolation and sanitising of the packaged product, all surfaces in the factory and all delivery trucks. As a result of the bakery’s closure, the bread produced in this facility on Wednesday has not been dispatched to the market.”

It said it anticipated reopening the bakery by early next week.

Fry Group Foods

MD for Fry Group Foods, Caroline Garnett, said they had quarantined all employees for 14 days, and that its Westmead, Pinetown, factory has been sanitised. It is unclear when the factory will reopen, Garnett added.

She said it was suspected that a managerial employee contracted the virus from a supplier who visited the premises recently. “The Durban facility has been closed, and all employees were screened and tested for Covid-19 by the Department of Health.

Coc-Cola shutters

According to an internal memo sent to employees at Coca-Cola’s Devland manufacturing plant, a worker with the respiratory disease was on-site last weekend.

“We have already initiated a tracing process to identify all employees who may have been in contact with the positive colleague, and these employees will undergo testing,” said MD, Velaphi Ratshefola.

Economist Mike Schussler said factories which produce critical food supplies needed to adopt a “clean up quickly and move on” attitude.

He said closing such major factories for a day or two was understandable.

“South Africa cannot afford to have food producers closed for a long time. The country does have relatively good food security, as we produce a lot of our own food. But people need to eat to survive. Bread is a staple and we don’t have diverse enough suppliers to allow for even one bakery to close for a long period,” Schussler said.

National Consumer Union vice- chairperson, Clif Johnston, said it did not foresee food shortages during the lockdown. “We have a very diverse set of suppliers in this country, so it is quite possible one or two may well close but there are always alternatives. “It is unclear when the factory will reopen,” Garnett said.

“The WHO has said food itself is not considered a primary vector of infection, so if someone bought bread from Albany they don’t need to rush off and test themselves,” Johnston said.

The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa’s chief executive, Gwarega Mangozhe, said the retail and food manufacturing sector continued to operate and there were no current concerns about food shortages.

“The consumer goods manufacturing and food supply chain is robust and continues to operate even under the current lockdown conditions.

Source: IOL.co.za, Fin24.com, Tiger Brands; statement

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