UCD Covid-19 Response

The UCD Community is rising to the challenge posed by the global pandemic

Understanding and Preventing Outbreaks of COVID-19 in Meat Processing Plants

Lead Researchers: Professor Grace MulcahyUCD School of Veterinary Medicine and Professor Séamus FanningUCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science


Outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat plants in Ireland have occurred during the pandemic, presenting threats to workers there and to wider society. A new project led by University College Dublin and funded by Science Foundation Ireland will bring together a range of scientists from a number of disciplines to better understand exactly why meat plants are vulnerable to the transmission of Covid-19, and how to decrease the risks. The findings will protect us from this and similar threats in the future.

What is the issue?

Meat plants have been a hotspot of Covid-19 outbreaks in Ireland during the pandemic, threatening the health of meat plant workers and wider society.

What will the research project do?

The project will analyse the Covid-19 virus in meat factories through diagnostic test results and changes in virus genetic sequence. The research will also explore the factory environment – including temperature, humidity and airflows throughout plants - and test an early-warning system that monitors waste-streams.

What will the impact be?

Understanding how the virus spreads through meat plants and finding ways to anticipate outbreaks will help to protect meat plant workers from infection and thereby reduce the risk of the virus being spread beyond meat plants.

Full Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Parasitology Grace Mulcahy said: “This study will help us to understand exactly how Covid-19 spreads within the environment of meat processing plants, and therefore how to reduce this spread. We will rapidly communicate this knowledge to enable practical measures to protect workers and the wider community, and to enable us to be prepared for any future infectious disease threats."


The project team has been working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to support the roll-out of rapid antigen detection tests (RADT) to the sector, by providing education and training to COVID-officers and QC leads in plants.  

Preliminary results are encouraging in relation to the use of cartridges from positive tests for whole virus genomic sequencing, thus enabling within-plant molecular epidemiology, and enhanced detection of viral variants.   Modelling, recording and cost-benefit analysis of the results of in-plant RADT will be a key output from the project.

The adaptation of waste-water surveillance to monitor viral presence within individual plants is ongoing, as is work on the role of aerosols and bioaerosols within plants. 

There has been significant National and International interest in the project – nationally in relation to the use of RADT, and internationally from Germany, UK, New Zealand and Belgium.

Further details and news from the project can be found on the new project website www.UPCOM.ie.


Project Team

Lead Applicant Professor Grace Mulcahy

Co-Applicant Professor Séamus Fanning


Dr. Gerald Barry, UCD

Dr. Nicola Fletcher, UCD

Dr. Carla Perrotta, UCD

Dr. Guerrino Marcori, UCD

Dr. Stig Hellebust, UCC

Dr. John Sodeau, UCC

Dr. Donal Sammin, DAFM

Dr. David O'Connor, TU Dublin

Prof. John Wenger, UCC

Dr. Andrew McCarren, DCU

Prof. Hilary Humphreys, RCSI

Dr. Paul Whyte, UCD

Dr. Nicola Walshe, UCD

Prof. Melanie Brinkmann, Technische Universität Braunschweig

Dr. John MacSharry, UCC

Dr. Lynda Fenelon, SVUH

Mr. John Horgan, Kepak

Mr. Niall Browne, Dawn Meats

Mr. Martin Kane, ABP

Mr. Philip Carroll, Meat Industry Ireland

Mr. Paul Kelly Food and Drink Ireland

Prof. Wim Meijer, UCD

Prof. Michael Prentice, UCC

Dr. Gereon Schulz Althoff, Tonnies Lebensmittel

Dr. Martin Blake, DAFM

Dr. Paul McKeown, Health Protection Surveillance Centre

Dr. Sharon McGuinness, HSA 

Dr. Mai Mannix, HSA

Dr. Peter van Embarek, WHO

Prof. Steve Hathaway, Ministry for Primary Industries

Dr. Robert Huey, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

Dr. Cillian De Gascun, National Virus Reference Laboratory at UCD