Health department investigates Smithfield Foods after worker contracts TB

Smithfield Foods (WAVY File Photo)

ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — A Smithfield Foods employee contracted tuberculosis (TB).

Amal Patel, an Epidemiologist with the Western Tidewater Health District, confirmed the case of tuberculosis was identified and they were alerted during the first week of October.

Since then, the infected employee is no longer at the plant and co-workers have been tested.

The Isle of Wight Health Department is now working with Smithfield Foods to conduct a large scale contact investigation.

“We will determine where they work, look at their work space, see how close co-workers are to them and see how the ventilation system is in the room,” Patel said.

Patel said because TB bacteria is spread from person to person through the air, and not through food or food products, there is no risk of food contamination. However, other employees could come down with TB if they had prolonged exposure to or close contact with the ill worker.

“At this point, we are concentrating on the people that are most at risk. These close contacts. TB disease is not something that happens in a day week or month. It takes some time to develop,” he said.

According to Patel, someone with an active form of tuberculosis can have symptoms that include: cough, fever, weight loss, chest pain, and sweating at night.

“At this point it’s just good to be aware of the situation and if the situation warrants it, the investigation will be expanded to include others that could potentially at risk,” Patel said.

Smithfield Foods released a statement to 10 On Your Side, which reads in full:

Smithfield Foods is aware of one employee in Smithfield, VA who is being treated for symptoms of tuberculosis. As is standard protocol, the company is working with the health department to conduct a full investigation at the facility to ensure no other employees have been affected. This situation poses no food safety risk, and is being handled as thoroughly and efficiently as possible.”

A Smithfield Foods employee shared a photo of the letter sent out by the company after the TB was identified. The letter says the health department would be meeting with employees who may have been exposed to the illness.

Photo courtesy WAVY viewer
Photo courtesy WAVY viewer