Bristol Seafood confirms COVID-19 cases, voluntarily pauses production in Maine

Published on
May 19, 2020

Portland, Maine, U.S.A.-based supplier Bristol Seafood has voluntarily paused production at its Portland Fish Pier processing facility after several team members tested positive for COVID-19.

Bristol Seafood CEO Peter Handy said on 18 May that the company was in the process of conducting universal testing for its local employees and thoroughly cleaning its harbor-side plant. As of now, production at the plant has been shut down for both 18 and 19 May.

“We take our duty to provide wholesome seafood to American families seriously, but we will always put the safety and health of our team members first. As a result, we are voluntarily pausing production while we conduct a thorough cleaning of our facility and get universal testing for our team. We are proactively communicating with the Maine CDC and meeting or exceeding their recommendations. We plan to reopen later this week with team members who have verified negative results,” Handy said in a press release.

“Our company is built on trust and transparency, and we are sharing this information accordingly. Please join me in including our affected team members in your thoughts. We will stand behind and support our teammates throughout this process,” he added.

Bristol has been operating with modified procedures at its processing site since March, in an effort to adhere to social distancing recommendations put in place to reduce the risk of employees contracting COVID-19.

“These procedures include the installation of an outdoor hand-washing station, temperature checks and health questionnaires for all team members prior to entry, closing the facility to outside visitors, additional hand-washing prior to entering the production areas, the use of masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns, thorough sanitizing of the facility throughout the day and at the end of each shift, adjusting production lines to allow adequate spacing, and eliminating overlap between personnel in our first and second shifts, among other actions taken,” the company said.

The facility is arranged so that workers are at least six feet apart during their shift, Bristol Vice President of Marketing Irene Moon confirmed to the Portland Press Herald. According to the newspaper, five of the company’s workers tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, 18 May. Ailing employees had been sent to doctors’ offices to be tested, with results coming back on Saturday, 16 May, prompting Bristol to immediately halt its production. The rest of the company’s workers were tested on 18 May, with results pending.

Moon said Bristol is working with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to manage the outbreak. Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long confirmed to the Portland Press Herald that the agency was in the process of contact tracing, reaching out to those who have been in contact with the Bristol workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. He added that Bristol had voluntarily agreed to universal testing of its staff. The Maine CDC is running the COVID-19 tests at its Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta, Long said. 

Many seafood suppliers, like Bristol, have had to temporarily close down their processing operations in light of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the premises. On the U.S. West Coast, Pacific Seafood shuttered its Warrenton, Oregon-based plant as of 11 May after a worker tested positive for coronavirus. A deep cleaning was conducted during the shutdown, and the company partnered with Signature Health to conduct universal testing for its site employees, the Daily Astorian reported at the time.

As of 18 May, Pacific’s Warrenton plant was returning to business in time for the commercial season for Pacific whiting, or hake, the newspaper confirmed. Fellow Oregon-based business Bornstein Seafoods also moved to reopen its Astoria processing facility on 18 May after a two-week shutdown spurred by 28 workers testing positive for the virus.

West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele told the Daily Astorian that the pandemic has been tough on the seafood industry.

“The whole thing is a nightmare,” she said. “The impacts of this whole pandemic over the last couple of months are much, much more significant than anything that’s happening at these two facilities. This has just given the industry here, I guess, a reality check in a way.”

Some seafood processors have installed plexiglass dividers to separate workers and help curb the possible spread of the virus, Steele said, in addition to implementing new safety measures and widespread use of temperature sensors and health screenings.

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