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