Tyson poultry plant remains closed past USDA head’s reopening goal

A Tyson Foods poultry facility in Wilkesboro, N.C., remains closed 12 days after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that all U.S. meatpacking plants would fully reopen in the next seven to 10 days.

Perdue said on May 6 that plants will reopen after coronavirus outbreaks sparked closures and led to shortages at grocery stores and fast food chains. President Trump issued an executive order last month to keep meatpacking plants open during the pandemic. 

All the facilities by fellow leading food processing firms JBS and Smithfield are currently open, according to the companies.

A Tyson Foods spokesperson said the company hopes to resume production at the Wilkesboro plant soon. The facility closed last week after an undisclosed number of workers tested positive.

“The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority. We thank those working on the front lines of our food supply chain for remaining on the job and for making sure the American people have access to safe food,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement to The Hill.

Tyson had at least six facilities close during the pandemic.

The company recently conducted facility-wide testing for coronavirus at its Pasco, Wash., beef plant, and 277 workers tested positive. The plant temporarily closed for deep cleaning and sanitization. 

Tyson has implemented safety measures including temperature checks before every shift, providing mandatory protective face masks and social distancing measures like physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms.

JBS had closed four facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

It reopened a pork production facility on April 29 in Worthington, Minn., that closed on April 20 due to an outbreak of at least 20 cases. The reopening, with a reduced staff of only up to 20 team members, was to provide producers with a humane euthanasia option for hogs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pork producers are being forced to depopulate livestock while restaurants, schools and other venues are closed. Several bipartisan senators recently called on Congress to provide additional funding to the USDA to help pork producers with the cost of euthanizing.

JBS also implemented safety measures like temperature testing team members, providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE) to all team members and requiring they be worn at all times, promoting social distancing and increasing sanitation. 

A Smithfield pork processing plant in Monmouth, Ill., reopened on May 2 after it closed on April 24 due to a “small portion” of its 1,700 employees testing positive for coronavirus. 

Smithfield reopened a South Dakota plant earlier this month, which had been closed for over two weeks after over 800 workers were infected and one employee died

The company also implemented safety measures like providing its workers with PPE, including masks and face shields, has implemented mass thermal scanning and installed physical barriers on its production floors and in break areas.

—Updated at 5:41 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Food industry JBS Meat packing industry Smithfield Foods Sonny Perdue Tyson Foods

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