Food producer introduces facial recognition amid 'military operation' to protect staff

One of the country’s largest growers, packers and distributors of fresh produce is introducing facial recognition this week as part of its measures to protect their staff during the Covid-19 crisis.
Food producer introduces facial recognition amid 'military operation' to protect staff

Eleanor Meade of Meade Potatoes, who are spending €75,000 on measures to protect staff during Covid-19.  	Picture: Seamus Farrelly
Eleanor Meade of Meade Potatoes, who are spending €75,000 on measures to protect staff during Covid-19. Picture: Seamus Farrelly

One of the country’s largest growers, packers and distributors of fresh produce is introducing facial recognition this week as part of its measures to protect their staff during the Covid-19 crisis.

Meade Potatoes in Lobinstown, Co. Meath, has spent more than €75,000 to date to ensure their 315 full-time employees are kept safe in their daily jobs.

These include installing perspex on production lines, segregating workers into pods, operating a hatch system for canteen food and introducing a system for electronic document signing.

Workers who car-share have also been assigned roles working together while facial recognition programmes will stop staff having to sign in manually at the start and completion of their shifts.

Company director Eleanor Meade says she has taken on the full-time role of risk assessment at the company since the Covid-19 emergency started.

“We are following the guidelines which are constantly being updated by the HSE and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland,” she said.

    The latest restrictions in operation since Friday, March 27 mandate that everyone should stay at home, only leaving to:
  • Shop for essential food and household goods;
  • Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
  • Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
  • Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
  • Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing

“We have split the company into pods and segregated staff so they are all socially distancing. Our engineering team has been flat out adapting production lines to ensure maximum safety, including perspex to separate our staff, who have also been given visors as standard in the packhouses.

“Anyone carpooling to work has been redeployed to make sure they work together as another way of limiting potential exposure.

Non-essential visitors are not permitted on-site and delivery and transport workers have their own toilet facilities and are only allowed on-site for the time taken to pick up or drop off deliveries.

Ms Meade said the system introduced at the facility is "like a military operation".

She said: “The canteen has been closed and we have a hatch system in operation for breakfast, lunch, beverages and snacks. It’s like a military operation here and the main reason is to make sure the staff are safe and we are following safety guidelines to the letter of the law.

“We are also providing Covid-19 training for all staff members through our e-learning system and have installed screens up around the production floor with reminders on hand-washing and social distancing as we are aware this will now be the future culture and norm in the workplace.

“We are going live with facial recognition this week so that staff don’t have to manually sign in. We had a relatively new and efficient handprint sign-in but we felt it only right to invest in a facial recognition system to eliminate all risk of clocking in and out.”

Eleanor said the company is continuing to plant hundreds of acres of potatoes, carrots and onions across their Meath farms at Lobinstown, Castletown, Navan and Kells.

She added that, thankfully, supply has not been an issue to date as Meade Potatoes continue to support their long-time community bank partner FoodCloud and deliver fresh produce to their close neighbours over Easter.

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