Coles says meat shortage possible after latest outbreak at abattoir

A meat supplier to supermarket giant Coles has been forced to close amid the latest COVID-19 outbreak connected with Victorian abattoirs.

Coles said it had made alternative arrangements to protect its supply but has warned there was a possibility they could run out of some meat products.

Twelve cases of COVID-19 are now linked to Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham, a supplier of beef, lamb and pork under the Coles brand. The business has been closed for cleaning, with staff put in quarantine for testing.

According to its website, Somerville Retail Services is part of the Coles supply chain with its products in 700 stores across the country. It employs about 400 people.

“Our production and delivery cycle is less than 48 hours, from receiving an order to delivery to a Coles store,” the company’s website said.

A Coles spokesperson said the supplier had been required to temporarily close following the positive tests.

Coles is warning of meat shortages in the wake of the latest abattoir outbreak.
Coles is warning of meat shortages in the wake of the latest abattoir outbreak. CREDIT: SEAN DAVEY

“We have made alternative arrangements to protect supply for our customers,” the spokesperson said.

“Our team is working hard to replenish our stores and we apologise if an item a customer wishes to buy is out of stock.”

There have now been cases at four separate meatworks in Victoria, including an outbreak at Cedar Meats in Brooklyn in May which resulted in 111 infections.

On the weekend, four cases were linked to JBS Meats, which has a plant 2 kilometres away from Cedar Meats.

Another case was detected at Pacific Meats in Thomastown a week ago.

The Cedar Meats cluster was the state’s biggest until the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, which now numbers 144 people.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has admitted errors in the handling of the outbreak and WorkSafe has launched an investigation into whether Cedar Meats provided a safe workplace.

Abattoirs have been a source of outbreaks across the world, with authorities attributing the problem to the high number of people working in close proximity to one another.

More than 16,000 workers at meat-processing facilities in the United States have tested positive to the virus, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr Sutton has described abattoirs as “intrinsically difficult” to manage.

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Victoria rose to 3967 on Monday, an increase of 177. Seventy-two people are in hospital, including 17 in intensive care

Dr Sutton said the abattoir outbreaks, where workers have low rates of pay and insecure work conditions, had highlighted the role of social inequality in spreading the virus.

“People who have more insecure work and are really obliged to come to work, obviously, [are] more likely to turn up with mild symptoms. So it is a challenge,” he said.

“We have to reach into all of those community members in order to understand how best to support them for the things we know that will work – isolation and quarantine.”

Somerville Retail Services declined to comment when contacted.

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