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Pork plant reveals partial reopening plan

Pork plant reveals partial reopening plan

JBS’s plant in Worthington, Minn. will operate with crews of up to 20 people

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A pork processing plant has made public its plans and protocols to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. However, at least initially, staff will simply euthanize pigs.

The JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minn., which processes about 20,000 hogs daily and employs about 2,000 people, suspended operations on April 20. At least seven workers had tested positive for COVID-19.

Now, the facility is set to resume modified operations that include fewer employees and other physical distancing and safety measures.

The plant’s new operating procedures include:

  • Skeleton crews of between 10 and 20 people
  • Taking temperatures daily
  • Providing extra personal protective equipment to employees
  • Installing plexiglass dividers
  • Hiring a separate staff to deep clean the whole facility daily
  • Relaxing attendance policies to discourage workers from coming to work sick.

 “While our focus is on getting the Worthington facility back to work on behalf of our team members producing food for the nation, we believe we have a responsibility to step up when our producer partners are in need,” Bob Krebs, president of JBS USA Pork, said in a statement on April 29.

The plant will also modify its production capacity.

During this partial reopening, workers will not process any hogs but will only euthanize them. The limited crews should be able to euthanize about 13,000 hogs per day, JBS estimated.

The animals won’t enter the food system and will instead be rendered, composted, buried or sent to landfills.

“None of us want to euthanize hogs, but our producers are facing a terrible, unprecedented situation,” Krebs said. “We will do everything in our power to work with the state of Minnesota to responsibly reopen our facility as soon as possible in support of producers who desperately require a more viable option for their hogs.”

JBS’s plan to restart operations comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Tuesday under the Defense Production Act to keep processing plants open.

The broader meat processing industry is closely watching how JBS handles its reopening.

“Our members are sharing best practices and experiences with each other because worker safety is not a competitive issue within the (North American) Meat Institute (NAMI),” Sarah Little, the vice-president of communications for NAMI, told in an email. “The meat and poultry industry is doing all it can to protect the heroic men and women who work in its facilities.”

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