WASHINGTON – Occupations of all kinds are being impacted by the spread of COVID-19, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture wasn’t spared. At least three federal food inspectors died in 2020, and at one point, roughly 197 field employees were absent from work and another 120 were under self-quarantine.

To protect the inspectors responsible for ensuring the safety of meat and poultry, FSIS issued a notice stating that meat and poultry establishments, egg products plants and all other facilities where FSIS provides inspection services, such as voluntary inspection service, must require their employees or contractors — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks when inspection program personnel (IPP) are present, if the establishment is located in a county with “substantial” or “high” community transmission of COVID-19. The agency currently requires all of its employees to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth in the workplace, regardless of vaccination status.

FSIS referred managers and employees to the CDC COVID Data Tracker website to determine whether they are located in an area of “substantial” or “high” community COVID-19 transmission. But as of Aug. 25, 2021, FSIS will not provide inspection service to establishments that don’t meet this requirement.

“If an establishment in an area of substantial or high community COVID-19 transmission does not require employees and contractors to wear masks when FSIS personnel are present or they are not consistently implementing that requirement, the district manager is to withhold inspection service from the establishment,” the notice states.

Read the full notice here.