Tag Archives: meat processing

Tyson Foods

Report: 22% of Tyson Workers at Iowa Pork Plant Positive for COVID-19, Facility to Temporarily Shut Down

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Tyson Foods

Yesterday Tyson Foods, Inc. announced that it would temporarily close its pork plant located in Storm Lake, Iowa following a significant number of employees testing positive for coronavirus. According to Reuters, an Iowa state official placed the positive COVID-19 count at 555 workers at the facility—this accounts to 22% of employees.

Attend the on-demand complimentary webinar: “Is Your Plant COVID-19 Safe?”The company stated that it would reopen next week after “deep cleaning and sanitizing the entire facility.”

The meat industry has been struggling with worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic for months. While there have been calls for more transparency in the number of COVID-19 cases among facility workers, the information has not been freely flowing. For example, this week Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Health, told the media the following: “Businesses are not currently required to report an outbreak to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Additionally, Iowa law allows confirmation of outbreaks only when necessary to protect the health of the public.”

Food Safety Tech

Upcoming Webinar: Is Your Plant COVID-19 Safe?

Food Safety Tech

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to the food industry, especially in meat and poultry processing facilities. On Wednesday, May 27, Food Safety Tech is hosting a complimentary webinar, “Is Your Plant COVID-19 Safe?”, to provide realistic advice and tips on how to mitigate workplace exposure risks related to COVID-19. Our subject matter expert speaker, Trish Wester, founder of The Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals, will also insights into updated cleaning and sanitation practices, and how companies can make sure that their facilities are more prepared for the entire period of the pandemic. The event is sponsored by Sterilex.

Register now!

Alert

Meat Shortage Threat, Facility Employees Can Still Work After Potential COVID-19 Exposure

By Maria Fontanazza
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Alert

–UPDATE April 29, 2020— Yesterday President Trump signed an executive order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities operational during the coronavirus national emergency. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the following in a USDA statement, “Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained. USDA will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.”

–END UPDATE–

As critical infrastructure workers, employees at meat and poultry processing facilities have stayed on the job during the coronavirus crisis. Hundreds have fallen ill and many have died as a result; at least 100 USDA inspectors have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least one inspector has died, according to reports. Production facilities across the country have shut down over the past month, and the threat of a meat shortage is very close to becoming a reality, warns Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson. “In small communities around the country where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing—the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” Tyson stated in a company blog. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Hog and cattle producers are altering rations to slow the growth of livestock. In Iowa, the National Guard was activated to conduct testing and contact tracing of plant workers from Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing Company.

Meat production is on a 25% decline and by the end of this week, America could be entering a meat shortage, according to Dennis Smith, an Archer Financial Services commodity broker and livestock analyst.

Access the COVID-19 Resource CenterProtecting Essential Employees

“To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community,” the CDC’s Critical Infrastructure Guidance states. The agency also notes that screening workers for COVID-19 symptoms is “an optional strategy”.

Meat processing workers are not exposed to COVID-19 through product handling; they can be exposed via close contact with other employees in a facility. The CDC and OSHA have released interim guidance for meat and poultry processing workers and employers that details how communal work environments should be laid out and how employers should be promoting social distancing. Engineering controls include the following:

  • Reconfiguration of workstations to allow employees to be six feet apart, if possible
  • Establishing physical barriers (i.e., plexiglass or strip curtains) to separate workers
  • Working with an HVAC engineer to establish proper ventilation that limits potential exposure to coronavirus; removal of any pedestal or personal fans
  • Setting up handwashing stations or hand sanitizer (60% alcohol) stations
  • Reconfiguring break rooms and other communal areas to promote social distancing

The CDC also recommends that workers wear cloth face coverings that fit over the mouth and nose.

For workers who have experienced COVID-19 symptoms and have self-isolated at home, the CDC advises they do not return to work until they meet specific criteria.

Read the CDC and OSHA interim guidance.

Coronavirus, COVID-19

Worker Safety a Concern as COVID-19 Affects U.S. Meat Plants, Supply Chain Uncertain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Coronavirus, COVID-19

Employees at meat processing plants across the nation aren’t reporting to work as they fear for their health during the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of workers have become infected with COVID-19, and several deaths have been reported. There is no official count on the infection rate or how many employees have succumbed to the novel coronavirus, but the information released thus far is alarming. Demands for more protective equipment, along with hazard pay, may not be enough to keep workers safe; concerns over a meat shortage loom.

Tyson Foods

On March 31, Tyson Foods posted on “The Feed Blog” (the company’s blog) that it would be taking additional measures to protect and reward its frontline workers and truckers during the COVID-19 crisis: Protection in the form of “protective facial coverings for production workers who request them” and a reward in the form of a “one-time $500 bonus” to be paid the first week in July “based on their work attendance in accordance with our relaxed COVID-19 attendance policy during the months of April, May and June”.

Last week Tyson Foods issued a news release about the steps it is taking to further handle the COVID-19 problem at U.S. plants: At all facilities, workers are having their temperatures taken (temporal thermometers or infrared temperature scanners, depending on the location) prior to entering the plants; the company has increased deep cleaning and sanitizing, some of which will require the shutdown of at least one day of production. The release also states that Tyson Foods is implementing more social distancing measures, which includes putting up dividers between workstations and increasing space between workers on the plant floor.

The company’s measures come among serious concerns about the presence of outbreaks at various facilities. The New York Times reported about the deaths of three workers at a Tyson poultry plant in Camilla, Georgia, one of whom was allegedly told to return to work even after feeling symptoms of COVID-19. In Columbus Junction, Iowa, a Tyson pork plant closed after more than 24 employees tested positive for COVID-19. And according to the Benton-Franklin (Washington state) health district COVID-19 Case Count page, 30 people linked to the Tyson Fresh Meats plant have been diagnosed with the coronavirus as of April 13.

Cargill, Inc.

Last week Cargill closed a meat production facility in Hazleton, PA due to the high concentration of COVID-19 cases in the area. The facility has 900 employees, and it has been reported that some workers were staying home as a result of testing positive for coronavirus or out of concerns for their own safety.

JBS

JBS shut down its plant in Pennsylvania for two weeks; it shuttered its beef plant in Greeley, Colorado after at least 36 employees tested positive for the virus, and at least one death was reported. One representative for union workers stated 50 employees have tested positive and an additional worker has died. JBS issued a statement on Friday that it is offering free COVID-19 tests to all workers at the Greeley beef plant. The company also lists its policy on prioritizing team member health and safety on its website.

Smithfield Foods, Inc.

Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork processing company, employing 40,000 people in the United States. The company shut down its plant in Sioux Falls, SD indefinitely after more than 80 workers tested positive for COVID-19 (this particular accounts for 4–5% of pork production domestically and employs an estimated 3700 workers). “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods in a news release. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”

Several Smithfield Food workers in poultry plants across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have also tested positive for the virus.

“We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” said Sullivan.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Broken Record

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud, E.Coli, Decernis
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Over the course of almost a full year, laboratory documents were falsified by the owner and the quality control officer of a Connecticut meat processing company. None of the reported beef samples were actually taken and tested for E. coli. The letterhead of a formerly utilized inspection laboratory was fraudulently used to falsify the test documents, an act that carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Fortunately, no illness was reported from consumers who purchased the meat products.

Resources

  1. The United States Attorney’s Office (September 23, 2019). “Quality Control Officer of Connecticut Meat Supplier Admits Fabricating E. Coli Test Results”. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Connecticut.