ONE of the UK's largest food producers has defended itself after it emerged 100 members of staff had tested positive for coronavirus during the pandemic.

Only one case has been recorded in the past month at Avara Foods in Hereford, formerly known as Sun Valley and Cargill, and the firm said there has been no threat to production.

The chicken producers said their first priority has always been for the wellbeing of its employees and animals.

"We have proactively put procedures and measures in place to ensure that Avara could continue to operate safely," said a spokesperson for the company, which employs around 2,500 people at its factory in Hereford.

Latest developments

"As an essential industry recognised by the government, food manufacturing has had to continue throughout the pandemic.

They added: "We've been open and transparent with all national and local bodies, including Public Health England, throughout the pandemic, keeping employees up to date on the latest procedures and the extensive protective measures implemented at Avara Foods sites to protect their health whilst at work."

To help avoid outbreaks, measures introduced by the company include adapting operations to enable social distancing, options for staff to work from home where possible and introducing temperature checks for people on-site.

The company also said it operates its own track and trace team, established before the government initiative, which aims to identify any potential positive cases and requires other employees to self-isolate as a precaution if deemed necessary.

Philip Davidson, operations director at Avara Foods added:"Avara has gone to great lengths to keep everyone in our business safe during the Covid-19 crisis.

"Food manufacturing is a key industry, recognised by the government as essential, and therefore expected to remain operational throughout lockdown.

"Whilst other businesses closed down temporarily we did not, but we made numerous adaptations to how we worked to comply with and exceed guidelines for Covid safety.

"Throughout we have engaged with our colleagues and ensured they are involved in all the steps we have taken.

He added: "We've worked closely with national and local bodies throughout, including Public Health England, Environmental Health, The Health and Safety Executive and Unite the union, all of whom have given numerous commendations about how we have conducted ourselves during the pandemic."