It’s unlikely that COVID-19 could spread through packaged meat, but that’s not stopping China from suspending exports from a Tyson plant in Arkansas

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Tyson Foods products sit on the shelf at a Shanghai supermarket. Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Chinese customs officials have suspended imports from a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas.
  • The ban comes days after Tyson Foods announced that over 400 of its Arkansas-based workers contracted COVID-19.
  • However, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention currently say there is “no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.”
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China is suspending imports from a Tyson Foods chicken plant in Arkansas after a COVID-19 outbreak infected hundreds of workers in the state.

The meat industry has become a hotbed for coronavirus, although experts say the evidence does not indicate that the disease spreading through packaged meat. But in a recent set of notices posted online, China’s General Administration of Customs announced that it would bar imports from a handful of plants in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil over COVID-19 fears.

Chinese customs official posted an announcement regarding Tyson Foods’ Springdale, Arkansas plant – referred to by its registration number P5842 – on its website on June 21. The Arkansas plant is the only Tyson Foods location currently facing a ban from Chinese officials.

“The products from the above-mentioned enterprises that have arrived or are about to arrive in Hong Kong will be temporarily suspended by the customs department,” a translated version of the website’s post said.

KY3 News reported that, on June 19, Tyson Foods revealed that 481 of its employees based in Arkansas’ Benton and Washington Counties tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 455 individuals were asymptomatic.

Tyson Foods and the wider meat industry have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Fears of meat shortages have swirled in the US throughout the springtime. Meanwhile, the Midwest Centre for Investigative Reporting has found that Tyson Foods can be linked to 7,185 cases of the virus around the United States. That’s more cases than those linked to competitors JBS, Smithfield Foods, and Cargill combined. At least 24 Tyson workers have died of COVID-19, as of June 8.

Cases continue to crop up in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s April 28 executive order telling Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to “take all appropriate action under that section to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations consistent with the guidance for their operations jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA.”

As a result of the heightened risk to meat processing workers, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released a coronavirus guide for employees and employers. The guide said that “it may also be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” but that “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The guide recommends distancing workers along processing lines, reducing contact in break rooms, and shortening shifts. In a separate announcement regarding food and the coronavirus, the CDC said there is “no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.”

Food journalism website The Counter reported that Cornell University food safety professor Dr. Martin Wieddmann said there was “no food safety issue” for consumers regarding COVID-19 transferal through packaged meats.

“Covid-19 transmission is person-to-person,” he told The Counter.