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Australia, Kagome: to minimize the disruption to the business

13/01/2022 - 2022 Season
Kagome boss applauds critical worker exemption decision. The tomato processor is among the food manufacturing and processing plants which will operate in Australia under the new COVID-19 protocols for essential workers. 

Kagome boss Jason Fritsch will enter his busiest time of the year with a renewed confidence that the processing plant is as best prepared as it can be for any “in season” COVID-19 challenges. The Kagome facility will have 300 workers on site for two-and-a-half months from the first week of February until the start of April, making it one of the largest employers in the area.

An announcement on January 11, 2022, states that workers at Kagome will not be required to isolate for seven days if they test negative with a rapid antigen test on arrival to the site. Mr Fritsch said the announcement meant that members of his workforce with COVID-positive close contacts, and not displaying symptoms, would be able to access rapid antigen tests prior to working. A negative test would mean they could continue to work.

 The site has introduced an absolute 100 per cent mask-wearing rule in the production centre, which Mr Fritsch said was one of the most important components in a COVID-safe environment. “Masks are the front line of defence in this scenario, then we have the RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests) to provide confidence to employees and keep our people in the workplace. “We understand there will be a high chance of someone testing positive during the process season. Our goal is to minimise the disruption to the business and cross-infection to staff.”

Kagome is expecting a late start to its tomato processing season, with unseasonal cold weather during October and November forcing a late start to the harvest. The plant is on track for its volume, but Mr Fritsch said he had hoped to start processing a few days after Australia Day (January 26, 2022). “Because of the cool October and November, we will be delaying it by a week or so,” he said. “It may be good from a COVID point of view, but it means pushing back into April a bit more than we like.”

Kagome ordered 200 RATs in November last year, having identified that the testing equipment would be important to its operation. Dealing with perishable raw material that needs to be processed on time and providing the necessary workforce to process the fruit was always going to be a major challenge for the company. “The decision to include our workers under the new conditions is a sensible measure,’’ Mr Fritsch said.

Mr Fritsch, along with Committee for Echuca Moama chief executive Deanne Armstrong and several other key players in the fruit and vegetable processing and manufacturing sector, formed a collective late last year. That collective met with regional development officials and state government officials to push the case of having, as much as possible, an uninterrupted processing season.
Governments are making decisions as things happen, so we appreciate the fact this decision has been delivered in a timely manner,” he said.

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