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A project to understand and model the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in meat processing plants

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News of 25/02/2021

A number of grouped cases or clusters of COVID-19 have been identified among workers in food processing plants, in France and around the world. A project coordinated by ANSES and funded by the National Research Agency (ANR) is now under way to better understand how the virus circulates in meat processing plants and to suggest appropriate preventive measures.  

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several outbreaks have occurred in food processing facilities, and particularly in meat processing plants. A number of factors are thought to favour the persistence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including: a cool, humid environment, enclosed conditions, workers in close proximity, strenuous physical labour and the need to speak loudly in order to be heard over the ambient noise.  

Characterising the persistence of the virus in the environment and on food 

ANSES announces the launch of a one-year study, which has been given the name of SACADA, from the French acronym for “transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in food preparation facilities with the emphasis on meat processing plants”. Subsidised by the National Research Agency (ANR), it will be conducted in collaboration with the Institut Pasteur, INRAe (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment), Santé Publique France and the National Veterinary Schools of Alfort (ENVA) and Nantes (Oniris).  The first strand of the project will look at the persistence of the virus in the working environment, on food produced and on packaging. Based on a review of scientific studies on this subject, as well as on experiments, it will seek to clarify the conditions in which the virus can remain contagious. 

Modelling the dynamics of virus circulation 

Another strand of the project will be dedicated to describing routine activities in meat processing plants. These data, together with all the information available on the persistence of the virus and the clusters that have appeared in these environments, will be fed into a dynamic model of virus circulation and transmission.  This will then be used to simulate the effectiveness of preventive measures.  
Two regulatory frameworks are applicable in meat processing plants: one for food safety and the other to protect workers from the risk of contamination. The study will enable a global analysis of these rules, which are often implemented separately, in order to define an operational integrated food safety system.  
 

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