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Avoiding Biological Agents in the Meatpacking Industry

There are hundreds of thousands of people working in the food industry—and keeping them safe is crucial. The meatpacking industry faces demanding challenges due to the unique substances in their environment.

Biological agents are one of the biggest hazards in the meatpacking industry. They include bacteria, viruses, fungi, other microorganisms and their associated toxins. Some specific diseases and biological agents of concern to the meat and poultry industry are:

- Brucellosis—this is a bacterial infection with symptoms ranging from fever, mild head and muscle aches, rash, severe diarrhea, and vomiting. Though rare, brucellosis can be fatal. Wild and domesticated animals can transmit Brucella bacteria by way of direct contact and through inhalation of infected aerosol.
- Influenza—these viruses cause both seasonal and pandemic flus. Influenza can be transmitted from animals to humans, as happened in 2009 during the H1N1 (“swine flu”) pandemic. It’s highly recommended that swine workers receive both the seasonal flu vaccine and, when needed, their pandemic flu vaccine.
- LA-MRSA (livestock-associated methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus)—infections of skin and soft tissues have been seen in farmers who come into contact with pigs and cattle.
- Q Fever—a bacterial infection caused by Coxiella burnetii from exposure to infected animals. Symptoms include fever, head and muscle aches, cough, and in rare cases pneumonia or hepatitis.

Fortunately, preventing bacterial infections is simple. Two of the easiest ways to avert illness is to avoid unnecessary contact with your face and properly wash your hands.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- Do not prepare or eat food and drinks without washing your hands first
- Don’t blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into your hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects 

To wash your hands correctly,

- Wet your hands with clean, running warm water, turn off the tap, and apply soap
- Lather both entire hands—backs, between your fingers, and under your nails
- Scrub for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to keep track of time is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice
- Rinse your hands under clean, running water
- Dry using a towel or air dry

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