An estimated 275 federal meat inspectors have been absent from work due to exposure to the coronavirus and at least three died, according to reports.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents food inspectors in USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), said an inspector from the New York City area, one from the Chicago area and one from Mississippi have died due to the virus. We asked USDA/FSIS for a comment but they did not respond.
CBS News, quoting a USDA spokesperson, reported about 145 field employees were absent from work as of April 28 due to COVID-19 diagnoses, and another 130 were under self-quarantine due to exposure to the virus. These come on top of possibly 5,000 or more food company employees, especially at meat and poultry plants, who have tested positive for the virus.
57 food processing workers have died of COVID-19, 52 of whom worked in meatpacking plants. Two dozen meat plants have been closed at some point.
As CBS News noted, FSIS inspectors often work shoulder-to-shoulder with plant employees while monitoring production lines, in environments not conducive to social distancing. That report, from last week, also claimed USDA has not provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to inspectors, but has offered a $50 stipend for inspectors to buy face coverings or the materials to make them, according to an FSIS notice issued in early April. There are roughly 6,500 FSIS field inspectors represented by AFGE.