Teys' abattoir workers back on job despite COVID outbreak

Teys Naracoorte given green light to keep processing for food security

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Beef
A COVID rapid response team was sent to Teys Naracoorte abattoir to test its workforce after more than 100 of its workers fell ill.

A COVID rapid response team was sent to Teys Naracoorte abattoir to test its workforce after more than 100 of its workers fell ill.

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South Australia's only major beef abattoir, Teys Naracoorte plant, has been given the green light by SA Health to keep its chain operating despite a COVID outbreak linked to the site.

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Interstate abattoirs have been plagued for months with short kill days and even shut downs due to COVID among their workers, but late last week an outbreak hit SA.

It was revealed Teys Naracoorte, the state's only major beef processor, had more than 100 workers with COVID symptoms.

Many speculated the plant could close for at least a couple of shifts as SA Health sent in a Rapid Response team to test all the workers, but processing has continued.

It had been speculated that the plant could remain closed for at least a few shifts this week with SA Health sending a COVID rapid response team to the abattoir to test all staff, but processing has contined.

On Sunday, Teys management informed its workforce that, unless they were unwell, they were required to come to work the following day, regardless of whether they had tested positive to COVID or were deemed a close contact.

A SA Health spokesperson said yesterday afternoon testing was still underway but there were close to 140 cases linked to the abattoir.

The spokesperson said SA Health was "working closely with management to ensure the business can continue to operate safely and continue food production at the site".

This included a provision to allow staff who had returned a negative PCR test to return to work, providing they produce a negative rapid antigen test each day.

It comes after national cabinet agreed to allow vaccinated food workers with no symptoms who were close contacts of COVID cases to return to work.

The SA Health spokesperson also confirmed to "ensure food security" that the government department had "allowed a small group of critical staff who had tested positive and are asymptomatic to work in an isolated area away from others".

"These workers must remain at home and isolate when they are not at work until they are cleared from COVID," she said.

Teys did not provide details about the percentage of its workforce which was absent, when questioned by Stock Journal, but Teys general manager of corporate affairs John Langbridge said they were working with SA Health and the other authorities as the situation continued to evolve.

"The health and safety of our people comes first, and we are doing all that we can to respond to the challenges of the pandemic," he said.

Dr Langbridge said their procedures included regular undertaking of rapid antigen tests for all staff and workers performing their duties in full personal protective clothing.

"All employees and visitors at the plant are required to be vaccinated - our workforce achieved full vaccination status prior to Christmas and the rollout of booster shots is now underway," he said.

Naracoorte combined agents chairman Rob Handbury said the industry had been "dealing with" similar COVID disruptions at interstate abattoirs for the past couple of months and hoped this would be a "short term hiccup".

"It has increased the workload for the truckies, agents and livestock producers. It is hard to pick a kill date with things changing every day depending on how many staff show up, trucks are even heading to Melbourne to deliver lambs and then being turned around," he said.

'Most of the time it is as easy as making one or two calls to book the cattle in and book the truck but now nothing is guaranteed until you get the kill result.

"They (processors) are doing the best they can to minimise interruptions and I think agents and most producers understand that too."

Mr Handbury, who is a director at Thomas DeGaris & Clarkson, said there would be a smaller yarding at today's Naracoorte weekly cattle market with local agents encouraging producers to hold off sending "heavy, killable cattle" this week due to processor uncertainty.

Teys was also a noticeable absence from the buying gallery at last week's massive Naracoorte weaner sales but Mr Handbury said there was minimal impact on prices.

RELATED: New year weaner sales start strongly

"It was one buyer less but if you look at the weaner sale in December I don't know whether they bought too many, the strength came from NSW," he said.

Further down the supply chain, shelves are again being stripped bare of meat at many Coles and Woolworths stores across the country.

Australian Meat Industry Council SA retail chair Trevor Hill says as in the past panic buying sprees, consumers are turning to independent butchers.

"While butchers appreciate the business there is a degree of exasperation that they are being used every time the big retailers run out," he said.

"It is an opportunity for butchers to say we have come through for you every time so why don't you keep shopping with us."

Mr Hill - who owns several butcher shops across Adelaide - said he had instructed his staff to "fill the fridges", which meant ordering 40-50 per cent more meat than other weeks.

He predicts there could be a shortage of some lines, including mince, for at least a fortnight but noted processors always kept meat in their chillers for a couple of weeks.

"I am pretty confident too that many people still have meat in the bottom of their freezers from the last time we saw this panic buying," Mr Hill said.

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