Outbreaks of the coronavirus are emerging at U.S. fruit and vegetable farms and packing plants.
While social distancing can be more easily implemented for workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields, and working outside may reduce some risks for virus spread, plants that package foods such as apples and carrots resemble the elbow-to-elbow conditions that contributed to outbreaks at meat packing plants.
Workers at six fruit-packing sites in Yakima County, Wash. went on strike in May over concerns they were not being provided adequate protection from the coronavirus.
The health department in Monterey County, Calif., reported 247 agricultural workers had tested positive for the virus as of June 5. That is 39 percent of the county’s total cases.
An FDA spokesperson said the act could be used “to protect the food supply and prevent significant food shortages.”
Coronavirus cases near tomato-growing Immokalee, Fla., are also on the rise. The spread of the coronavirus among Florida farm workers has significant implications for national food production, as many agricultural workers travel north through the summer following the harvest through Georgia, the Carolinas, and into the Northeast.
On May 19, the USDA and Food and Drug Administration said the government could use the Defense Production Act to keep fruit and vegetable lines moving. The act would give companies some liability protection if workers fall sick.