The GMB trade union has called on private-label major Bakkavor to introduce mass Covid-19 testing at a salad facility in southern England after an outbreak of the virus among workers.

GMB said an employee at the plant has died following the outbreak, but that had not been confirmed to just-food by Bakkavor at the time of writing.

The union, which represents staff at the Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads facility in Kent, south of London, said in a statement today (1 December) that cases at the plant, which supplies retailer Marks & Spencer, have “rocketed” from 35 in the third week of November to 79 by the end of the month.

It said at least 97 of the company’s 800 employees at the site have been instructed to self-isolate. 

GMB has called for Bakkavor to offer full pay to anyone taking Covid-related absence, mass testing for staff and to perform a deep clean at the factory.

It claimed that so far the company has only agreed to ask staff to wear face masks.

Frank Macklin, GMB organiser, said: “Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads had only experienced a few positive cases of Covid-19 before November, but we have now seen the virus sweep through the factory at an alarming rate in just over four weeks. 

“Sadly, the Bakkavor factory has now suffered a Covid-19 related fatality. GMB has requested the facility close to allow mass testing of employees and a deep clean of the factory. Once this has been done, the factory can re-open with staff returning safe in the knowledge every step has been taken to ensure they are working in the safest possible environment.”

GMB said it has lodged a formal collective grievance procedure on behalf of its members at the plant as it believes their health and safety has been “seriously compromised”.

In August, Bakkavor said it was closing another UK salad facility – at Spalding in England’s east Midlands – partly as a result of the impact of Covid-19.