MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — JBS USA said it is temporarily shutting down its big pork processing plant in southwestern Minnesota because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among workers, the latest closure of a major U.S. food processing plant due to the pandemic.
Meat processing workers are particularly susceptible to the virus because they typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.
“We don’t make this decision lightly,” Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement. “We recognize JBS Worthington is critical to local hog producers, the U.S. food supply and the many businesses that support the facility.”
The Worthington plant employs more than 2,000 people and normally slaughters 20,000 hogs per day. JBS said the plant would wind down operations over the next two days with a reduced staff. The company, which just granted $4-per-hour raises for its U.S. meatpackers, will continue to pay workers during the indefinite closure and is urging them to follow Minnesota’s stay-at-home order until they return to work.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported over the weekend that 26 JBS workers and five relatives of workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
JBS USA operates more than 60 facilities across the United States. The Worthington plant is the company's third to shut down, joining a beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, that closed for two weeks and reopened Monday, and a beef plant that remains closed in Greeley, Colorado.
In Wisconsin, infections were flaring at the JBS Packerland plant in Green Bay. Health officials said they didn't have an exact number of infections connected to the plant, but infections spiked by more than 100 in the surrounding county over the weekend. The plant remained open.
Other companies have shut plants across the country because of outbreaks, including the Smithfield pork plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Cargill, Tyson Fresh Meats and National Beef say employees at their processing plants in Kansas have also tested positive. State and federal officials are working to track clusters connected to those plants. Controlling those outbreaks is crucial: Plants in southwest Kansas account for 25% to 30% of beef processing in the U.S.
A worker said National Beef resumed production at its plant in Tama, Iowa, on Monday after a two-week shutdown. Gov. Kim Reynolds said Sunday that 177 workers out of more than 500 tested positive.
Tyson said Monday that its pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, would stay open even after dozens of employees tested positive in recent days. But the company closed its plant in Perry, Iowa, for one day Monday for cleaning. A two-week shutdown at its Columbus Junction, Iowa, plant remained in place.