COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. chicken processing plant; 28 employees tested positive
VANCOUVER -- Nearly 30 employees at a Vancouver food processing plant tested positive for COVID-19, the region's health authority confirms.
Vancouver Coastal Health said in an email Tuesday that it has declared an outbreak among staff at United Poultry Ltd.
So far, 28 employees at the chicken processing plant on East Cordova Street have tested positive for novel coronavirus.
VCH said all employees are being "managed" as cases or treated as close contacts, meaning they've been instructed to self-isolate.
The health authority said it was made aware of a possible outbreak Sunday, when a single employee tested positive.
Members of VCH went to the plant the next day and tested all 71 staff members who were at work Monday.
An additional 27 positive cases were identified during these tests, VCH says.
The plant was closed, and the Canada Food Inspection Agency says there's no evidence to suggest food processed in the plant could cause further infections.
So far, there have been no cases of food or food packaging associated with the spread of COVID-19, VCH said, so no recall is required.
Still, VCH advised the public to follow good hygiene practices when handling and preparing food, including washing hands and regularly disinfecting surfaces.
Meat should be cooked thoroughly, and cooked and uncooked foods should not come in contact with each other.
A food safety expert told CTV News she understood the concerns, but confirmed there was no reason to suspect a risk of transmission.
"What happened in this chicken processing plant was due to person-to-person contact, but not because they handled the chicken and got infected," said Siyun Wang, an associate professor of food safety engineering at the University of British Columbia.
That message was echoed by B.C.'s provincial health officer during her daily news conference on new cases.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said there is no evidence suggesting the virus can spread through food, but reminded the public of other bacteria associated with raw chicken, including salmonella.
She said close contacts of the employees known to have the virus have been contacted, and that an investigation is underway.
Vancouver Coastal Health is working with CFIA on the case, as the plant is federally inspected, Henry said.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, CFIA said it expects the operators of the plant to abide by guidance already in place by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and by local public health authorities, when it comes to responding to the confirmed cases.
The agency did not provide further details on what, specifically, its role would be in the investigation, nor did it give any information on the outbreak at the plant.
A spokesperson directed CTV News to the CFIA website, where the agency has posted some guidelines regarding COVID-19 https://www.inspection.gc.ca/covid-19/eng/1584729805758/1584729899016, which it said it expects facilities to follow.
Among those guidelines is that employees respect physical distancing when possible, and that employers should enhance cleaning and sanitation to control any risk of spread to other workers.
Employees with symptoms need to contact their manager and health officials immediately.
"The CFIA does not anticipate any food product recalls or withdrawals from the market due to COVID-19 contamination," it said.
Coronavirus is the confirmed cause in 87 deaths in B.C., as of Tuesday afternoon.
B.C. health officials announced Tuesday an additional 25 test-positive cases reported in a 24-hour period.
Some of the plant cases were included in Monday's update, Henry said, so Tuesday's total didn't include all 28.
So far, there have been 1,724 test-positive cases in B.C. since January.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel and Alissa Thibault