Covid cases at Irthlingborough food factory confirmed

Whitworths supply snacking and baking products using dried fruits, nuts and seeds

By Alison Bagley
Friday, 11th December 2020, 12:28 pm

An Irthlingborough food production company has confirmed that 'a few' employees have tested positive for Covid-19.

Whitworths, based in Wellingborough Road, specialises in dried fruits, nuts and seeds for snacking and baking.

A spokesman for the 130-year-old company confirmed they had been affected by cases but did specify exactly how many employees had tested positive.

Whitworths in Wellingborough Road, Irthlingborough

The spokesman said: "As like many other businesses, we can confirm that a few of our employees have tested positive for Covid-19. Our employees, their health and welfare are always our immediate concern and we are very proud to be able to say that throughout the pandemic, we have had an excellent track record of keeping our employees safe through the effective ways of working we have implemented, site rules and good use of PPE. This is best demonstrated by only having one instance of on-site transmission.

"We operate our own track and trace process; we ask employees to seek out tests and to self-isolate. We follow a very strict cleaning regime and we re-brief on procedures and safe ways of working where appropriate.

"We have supported our employees with full company sick pay during their periods of self-isolation as we recognise that the loss of earnings can drive different behaviours that could spread Covid."

The statement was in response to allegations made by a current employee on one food line, who wanted to remain anonymous, who claimed that there had been an outbreak in the factory.

They claimed there have been ten confirmed cases and a lot more have symptoms. They are all car sharing and travel together to work from Rushden, Wellingborough, Peterborough and Northampton, the employee said.

They said: "No-one is taking their temperatures, no-one keeps 2m apart and there are no masks unless they are told by the line manager - even some of them don't wear masks.

"I'm frightened of getting it. I do think I will get it before Christmas. It's spiralled out of control.

"People can't afford to live on £90 a week so they keep sharing cars and coming to work."

The Whitworths spokesman said: "We take our employees' concerns seriously. We have a variety of communication methods for issues to be raised and dealt with, including an Employee Forum with representation from all areas of the business and we have a Covid action team. It is our intention to share the comments that have been made.

"It is deeply disappointing that the perception of one of our team is that we there are gaps in how we are dealing with the very serious nature of Covid.

"We will take steps to address not only the concerns, but to continue to share our approach with all employees on-site."

The spokesman said that last week the company received 'positive feedback' from an external auditor that reviewed operations including hygiene standards. They were also visited by the Health and Safety Executive in May 'who expressed their confidence' in their approach', they said.

The spokesman said: "As a food manufacturer, we already have high standards of hygiene; this includes hand washing and sanitisation stations before our employees work on the production lines; plus, our line and facility cleaning regimes.

"Like many, we have employees who car share. We have communicated in several languages the risks posed and have outlined the government guidance on how to car share safely. We are disappointed that in a small number of cases that this is not being adhered to."

The spokesman added: "An outbreak would suggest numerous employees testing positive as a result of working together and we can confirm that this is not the case either now or before at our production site in Irthlingborough.

"Having reviewed our hygiene standards, we do not see the necessity to close a factory or a specific production area.

"Our site rules are to always keep a 2m distance. Our manufacturing lines have been modified with screens and our onsite facilities including changing rooms and canteens have been organised to support social distancing.

"We have redeveloped the entrance and exit to our site to reduce congestion and support social distancing. We do have the wearing of visors and masks where employees may need to reduce their 2m distance.

"As employees move around site, away from their place of work, it is mandatory to wear masks in all inside areas, including our offices in Orchard House."