Brazil BRF plant in food safety probe puts 1,000 workers on leave

SAO PAULO, March 12 (Reuters) - Brazil’s largest chicken processor BRF SA is placing more than 1,000 workers on leave at its Mineiros plant, one of the units implicated in a food safety investigation, the company said on Monday.

BRF said the decision to put workers on leave was made last year, part of “layout changes” on the factory floor. The company denied the move is related to the food safety probe dubbed “Weak Flesh.” Investigators have said companies including BRF are evading food safety checks.

Mineiros, where BRF makes turkey and chicken products, has been banned by the agriculture ministry from exporting to countries where specific sanitary controls are required to detect the presence of Salmonella spp, among them countries in the European Union.

Some 497 employees at Mineiros’ turkey production line will be placed on a 30-day leave, effective Monday, the company said in a statement. Some 623 employees working on the chicken product line will be placed on leave for 10 days starting on Monday, it said.

After the third phase of the food safety investigation, Brazil’s agriculture ministry banned exports out of BRF’s plants in the towns of Rio Verde and Mineiros, in Goiás state, and Carambeí in Paraná state.

The ban relates to 12 destinations which require specific controls for the Salmonella spp bacteria, including South Africa, South Korea and the European Union.

Last week, police arrested the former chief executive of BRF on charges that he and other BRF executives knew the company engaged in fraud to evade food safety checks.

The executives arrested, who have already been released from prison, will not be able to return to their posts at the company to avoid the risk of them interfering with the ongoing investigation. (Reporting by Paula Arend Laier; Writing by Ana Mano; editing by Grant McCool)