Cedar Meats Australia in Brooklyn, 10km west of the CBD, has been identified in multiple media reports, with the abattoir confirming to Seven on Sunday night it was being investigated for an outbreak.
Nineteen of the 22 new cases announced in Victoria on Monday are “in connection with the meatworks”, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
There are 34 cases in total linked to the cluster since it was first raised by Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Saturday.
In a statement provided to 3AW today, Cedar Meats general manager Tony Kairouz said all of the workers at the west Melbourne facility are self-quarantining.
“The welfare and safety of our staff, visitors, suppliers and customers is our highest priority,” he said.
“All meat processed at out facilities is processed in accordance with Australian standards for food safety and our customers can be confident that the meat processed at our facilities is safe to eat.”
According to its website, the business is a third-generation family operation dealing with mutton, lamb, goat and veal.
“The premises allows us to slaughter, bone, pack and chill/freeze and transport 10,000 units a day,” it says.
‘IT IS NOT GOING TO GET OUT OF CONTROL’
The business name was put to government officials at a press conference on Monday morning and was not disputed however chief medical officer Professor Brett Sutton said they only identify cluster sites if there is a “specific public health reason” to do so.
“If the meatworks wants to name itself to be clear that it doesn’t involve other places, then they’re free to do so,” Prof Sutton said, to which one journalist replied “it has”.
“My team’s just in the role of doing the public health follow-up of these places.
“Naming it is not part of what’s required for us to do our work, so we follow up, and if community members need to be told, because they’re part of the public health follow-up, we’ll do so.”
Prof Sutton said most of the 19 people to test positive to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours were asymptomatic and all of them would have been in quarantine when they were confirmed as a case.
“It’s not a risk to the general community and it is not going to get out of control,” he said.
“I think it has been handled extremely well.”
Cedar Meats closed on Friday and is being thoroughly cleaned.
“Meatworks are particularly vulnerable. We’ve seen from the US extremely large outbreaks at meatworks,” Prof Sutton said today.
“In some ways because they are forced to work closer than some other workplaces.
“But the plan to test across those staff was appropriate and as soon as that cluster was identified, they’ve been moving to have the non-essential workers, and move to a shutdown at the earliest possible time.
“But there were some logistic constraints about having everyone cease work immediately because they had to go through processing to be able to get there.”
He said the phased shutdown was due to a minimum amount of staff needed onsite “to ensure animal welfare was looked after”.
Ms Mikakos said all staff were being tested and the health department was tracing the contacts of every confirmed case.
“There are no current concerns about food safety,” Ms Mikakos said on the weekend.
“Therefore, there should be no broader concerns to the broader community in relation to this particular facility.”
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson confirmed to Beef Central that the facility was a “mixed species plant” but also declined to name it.
He said it was the first cluster at an Australian meat processing facility.
‘VICTORIAN MEAT IS SAFE TO EAT’
Ms Mikakos said the health department is working closely with Agriculture Victoria and PrimeSafe, the state’s food safety regulator for meat and seafood, “on issues related to the processing of animals”.
PrimeSafe released a statement on Sunday to reassure consumers in Victoria.
It said it is assisting the DHHS “to determine that food safety regulatory requirements have been met by the facility, and to understand supply chain connections to assist with staff tracing”.
“In accordance with advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted to people through food or packaging,” the statement says.
“Based on this information, consumers can have confidence that meat processed at the facility is safe to eat.
“As usual, consumers should ensure that all meat is thoroughly cooked, especially minced meat and hamburgers.”
The Australian reports the owners of the abattoir have previously made a donation of $15,000 to the state Labor Party.
Asked whether he was aware of the donation, Mr Andrews said: “I’ve got no idea about those matters.”
“You’d need to have a conversation with the State Secretary of the Labor Party about who is or isn’t a donor,” he said.
“Donations to political parties are a matter for those political parties.”
He said the naming of any business impacted by COVID-19 was decided by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr Andrews was asked if Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz was related in any way to the owners of the facility, who share her surname.
He said she was not involved in matters of public health and “there is no connection apart from a family name” which is popular in her community. The minister is a Maronite Catholic and a proud Lebanese Australian.
“She’s very proud of her heritage, I’m very proud of her, she has a name that’s very common within the community that she and her parents are from, and that is the end of it,” Mr Andrews said.