12th Foster Farms worker in the Central Valley dies of COVID-19, sparking new safety concerns
The death of a 12th Foster Farms worker from COVID-19 in California’s Central Valley is raising new concerns about safety at such food processing facilities.
The worker’s family said the employee, who was of Punjabi descent and in his 50s, had been called back into the Foster Farms poultry processing plant on Cherry Avenue in Fresno, got sick with COVID-19 and spent the last three weeks in an intensive care unit before dying over the weekend, according to Deep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement, a Central Valley youth and family nonprofit that works with the Punjabi Sikh community.
The family said they believe the worker was infected at the plant because the family had avoided going out into the community other than for work or other essential reasons, Singh said.
Singh faulted Foster Farms for a “callous lack of concern and protections that prioritize worker safety and their families.” At least 193 people at the Cherry Avenue plant have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks, about 20% of the plant’s workers, according to the company.
Family members of workers have criticized Foster Farms for providing poor communication to workers in English, even though many in the workforce have limited English proficiency.
Community leaders also told The Times that the company has been asking employees to work overtime to keep production lines running amid absences.
Foster Farms has previously said that it is committed to the health and welfare of its employees and that it has implemented safety measures such as requiring the use of masks, installing partitions at workstations, staggering workers’ breaks, expanding break areas, installing portable HEPA air filters in common shared areas and testing employees weekly at all major processing facilities.
This is the third COVID-19 death of a worker at the Foster Farms Cherry Avenue plant in Fresno; nine workers at the Livingston plant in Merced County have also died of COVID-19.
“We are saddened by the death at our Cherry Street plant and, out of respect for the family and loved ones, can provide no further details,” said a statement from Foster Farms.
The company said the rate of positive coronavirus test results among workers at the Cherry Avenue plant has been declining since mid-December. Less than 1% of the tests are coming back positive, it said.
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