01 February 2021, 08:26 AM
  • Despite progress being made in mass testing availability for the food and drink sector, small businesses have been left out of the plans
Rapid testing arrives for the food industry

The government is encouraging the uptake of free mass testing for the food and drink industry, with food businesses like Tate & Lyle Sugars, Moy Park, Primula and Apetito already signed up to the scheme, in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Government departments are working in partnership with NHS Test and Trace to support businesses and public sector bodies to implement rapid testing, including key workers operating in the food sector. An estimated 734,600 lateral flow tests have been distributed across the public and private sector so far, according to the Department of Health.

“With around 1 in 3 people not showing symptoms, testing those without symptoms is vital to breaking chains of transmission,” said health secretary Matt Hancock said. “By offering rapid testing in the workplace, we are offering additional peace of mind to those who are unable to work from home during the current lockdown.”

“Mass testing has really helped us get one step ahead of the virus by identifying colleagues who were infectious but showed no symptoms,” added Gerald Mason, senior vice president of Tate & Lyle Sugars. “This has been especially welcome over the last few weeks at our East London factories as the levels of virus in the local area have been extremely high. Our colleagues have welcomed it as it means they are much safer in our workplace, and our factories are better placed to continue to feed the nation.”

Defra has also informed the NFU that businesses with a minimum of 50 employees can register for government-funded rapid testing. The lateral flow device test kits will be available until 31st March.

“We strongly welcome the move to get to rapid asymptomatic workplace testing in place for those still working incredibly hard to produce the nation’s food,” said NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts. “It has always been important during times of crisis to keep workers safe and our shops and fridges full, so it’s great that Defra and DHSC have secured this testing for those food businesses, including farmers and growers where they have over 50 employees.

“We will continue to work closely with government on reducing the need for those workers testing negative to self-isolate, and for smaller businesses to access mass testing facilities,” he added. The NFU has been informed that the government is “developing alternatives” to help small businesses. In the meantime, it recommends that these businesses contact their local authority to explore the possibility of using community testing facilities.

In addition to mass testing for food manufacturers and producers, The Grocer reports that it will soon be expanded to supermarkets and smaller food retailers. According to the report, four out of five food companies will not qualify for the scheme as the businesses must have a minimum of 50 staff members.

The Food and Drink Federation told Speciality Food the group is aware that smaller businesses cannot currently apply to the scheme. “We understand the time and costs involved in establishing Asymptomatic Testing Sites may not be viable for smaller businesses or their premises,” said Caroline Keohane, the head of industrial strategy, skills and employment. “As smaller businesses are being hit hard by the pandemic, it is a priority and we are working closely with the government to ensure there is a solution for small businesses to have access to workforce testing.”

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