Concern as Covid-19 spreads among U.S. fruit and vegetable packers

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Concern as Covid-19 spreads among U.S. fruit and vegetable packers

Numerous outbreaks of Covid-19 are emerging at U.S. fruit and vegetable farms and packing plants around the country, causing widespread concern.

A rising number of sick farm and packing house workers comes after thousands of meat plant employees contracted the virus and could lead to more labor shortages and a fresh wave of disruption to U.S. food production, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration said last month it may extend an executive order to keep meat plants operating to fruit and vegetable producers as well, a sign it is concerned fresh produce could be the next sector hit.

While social distancing can be more easily implemented for workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields and working outside may reduce some risks for virus spread, plants that package foods such as apples and carrots resemble the elbow-to-elbow conditions that contributed to outbreaks at U.S. meatpacking plants.

By late May, there were more than 600 cases of Covid-19 among agricultural workers in Yakima County, Washington. Of those, 62% were workers in the apple industry and other packing operations or warehouses, according to a Reuters review of data from county health officials.

In addition, the health department in Monterey County, California, known as “the world’s salad bowl” for its sprawling vegetable farms, reported 247 agricultural workers had tested positive for coronavirus as of June 5, 39% of county’s total cases.

There have also been cases near Immokalee, Florida, a key tomato-growing region. 

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