The Food and Agriculture Sector is designated as critical infrastructure, and it is essential that these operations continue during the pandemic. Workers are the backbone of this critical infrastructure, and we are providing this information to ensure employers have information to help support their workers and protect their health. This summary, derived from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, outlines key steps that employers and workers can take to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 and support continuity of essential operations if workers are diagnosed with, or exposed to, COVID-19, or show symptoms associated with COVID-19. Links to more detailed practices and recommendations are also included.
What plan does CDC recommend employers have in place to address sick workers and continuity of operations?
In consultation with their occupational health professionals, employers should conduct worksite assessments to identify COVID-19 risks and prevention strategies, even before having a sick or exposed worker.
Employers should identify a qualified workplace coordinator who will be responsible for COVID-19 issues, help develop plans for implementing infection control procedures, and help assess the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace, including absenteeism at work.
- For further information, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Interim Guidance for Business and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 and General Business Frequently Asked Questions, which are frequently updated, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and Guidance on Returning to Work. See also the Federal Government Resources section at the end of this document.
Basic infection control information and training should be provided for all workers in a language and at a literacy level they understand.
Developed in collaboration with CDC, this resource provides a quick reference to these items potentially worn by workers in the Food and Agriculture Sector.
Also, as a general good practice, CDC recommends:
- Employers should encourage workers to use an employer approved face mask or cloth face covering at all times while in the workplace. More information on the use of respirators, facemasks, and cloth face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at Use of Respirators, Facemasks, and Cloth Face Coverings in the Food and Agriculture Sector During Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic.
- Employers should ensure that workers can practice social distancing or employ engineering solutions if that is not possible.
- Employers should make available facilities and materials for worker hygiene so workers can practice CDC recommended handwashing.
- Employers should clean and disinfect workplaces/stations at frequent intervals.
What precautions does CDC recommend employers adopt to continue operations after workers have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or have been diagnosed with COVID-19?
Sick workers should stay home or go home if they develop symptoms during the work day.
- Workers who have symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home or go home.
- Sick workers should follow CDC-recommended steps. Workers should not return to work until they meet all the criteria to end home isolation, in consultation with healthcare providers.
- Close off areas used by the person who is sick.
- Clean and disinfect a sick worker’s workspace. Wait 24 hours or, if 24 hours is not possible, as long as practical before you clean or disinfect.
- Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the exposed area, if reasonable given food safety regulations.
- Collect information about the worker’s contacts among co-workers for the period starting 2 days prior to symptom onset to identify other workers who could be considered exposed.
- If a worker is confirmed infected, inform fellow workers of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer should instruct fellow workers about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.
For further information, consult CDC’s Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19, What to Do If You Are Sick, and Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.
What precautions does CDC recommend employers consider adopting if they remain open with workers who have had a potential exposure to COVID-19 but are symptom-free (i.e., asymptomatic)
To ensure the continuity of operations, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, informed by the risk assessment of the workplace that accounts for COVID-19 mitigations already in place, provided they remain symptom-free and additional precautions are taken to protect them and the community.
- Employers should follow CDC guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 and Testing Strategy for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in High-Density Critical Infrastructure Workplaces after a COVID-19 Case Is Identified.
Critical infrastructure businesses have an obligation to manage the continuation of work in a way that best protects the health of the worker, co-workers, and the general public. An analysis of core job tasks and workforce availability can allow the employer to match core activities to available skilled workers who have not been exposed.
For a description of “potential exposure”, see CDC’s Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 and Testing Strategy for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in High-Density Critical Infrastructure Workplaces after a COVID-19 Case Is Identified.
- Check temperatures and assess symptoms of workers, ideally before entering the facility or operation.
- If no fever (>100.4 F) or COVID-19 symptoms are present, workers should self-monitor for onset of symptoms during their shift.
Is the food supply safe if food workers are exposed to or sick from COVID-19?
The U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals.
- There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19 regardless of the status of the worker in a plant.
- FDA does not anticipate that food products will need to be recalled or be withdrawn from the market should a person that works on a farm or in a food facility test positive for COVID-19.
Federal Government Resources
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) www.cdc.gov, including:
- Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19;
- Testing Strategy for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in High-Density Critical Infrastructure Workplaces after a COVID-19 Case Is Identified;
- Overview of Testing for SARS-CoV-2;
- Manufacturing Workers and Employers;
- Protecting Seafood Processing Workers from COVID-19 (developed with OSHA);
- Agriculture Workers and Employers (developed with OSHA);
- Interim Guidance for Business and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019, which is frequently updated; and
- General Business Frequently Asked Questions, which is likewise updated frequently.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), https://www.osha.gov, including Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 and Guidance on Returning to Work that includes information on how a COVID-19 outbreak could affect workplaces and steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
Businesses are strongly encouraged to coordinate with state and local health officials so timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses. Local conditions will influence the decisions that public health officials make regarding community-level strategies.