Dairy has officially been deemed critical infrastructure by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the specific guidance, DHS names farmers employed in food, feed and ingredient production, and workers from warehouses, distribution, sanitation and food testing labs.
“The dairy supply chain, from farm to fork, has been identified as essential critical infrastructure and as such, employees have a special responsibility in these times to continue operations,” NMPF said.
The group has drafted a template work permit on its COVID-19 website for food and agriculture employees that can be customized to explain the DHS guidance. It asks relevant authorities to grant employees permission to travel to and from work and defines the employees’ essential role.
“Agricultural labor is identified as a critical component of that food supply, and thus it is important that workers who make up an essential part of the food supply chain be allowed to remain operational,” the template states.
“As state and local communities implement COVID-19-related movement restrictions, it is imperative that they allow for the appropriate movement of critical infrastructure workers within and between jurisdictions.”
Recommendations and regulations
NMPF also emphasizes on the site that there is no evidence yet to suggest that food can transmit COVID-19, and there has been no discovery of COVID-19 in cattle. The FDA has confirmed that as heat treatment kills other coronaviruses, pasteurization is expected to inactivate this virus as well.
The site links to several resources that are already setting guidelines for dairy farms to help them prevent the spread of COVID-19, like Cornell University, Farm Journal, and Dairy Herd Management.
NMPF’s own handbook on prevention and management of the virus goes in-depth as “dairy farms are 24-hour, 7-day per week business and operations must continue.” It advises general measures, like staying home when sick, frequent hand washing and limiting farm access to essential personnel.
But it also advises increased sanitation of work areas, wearing gloves at all times and showering and washing work clothes every day to minimize the spread of the virus. For employers, NMPF recommends keeping a close eye on the health of employees.
No one should report to work if showing any symptoms, and employers should print out fact sheets and posters from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to post in work areas. Cleanliness is heavily encouraged, as well as reviewing sick leave policy.
“Do you provide paid sick leave for your employees? If not, will employees feel financially obligated to come to work even when sick?” NMPF asks.
“Employees sometimes come to work believing they will face punishment or firing if they miss work. Be sure your employees understand that their health and that of their co-workers comes first. Communicate and plan to cover for sick employees.”
And if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, NMPF recommends notifying the local health department and all employees. Additional testing may be suggested and employees cannot return to work unless cleared by the proper authorities.