The Potluck

Minnesota issues health guidelines to keep packing plants running during pandemic

By: - April 21, 2020 12:22 pm

Minnesota health officials have issued guidelines to meatpacking plants to operate during COVID-19 pandemic. (Creative commons photo via Pxhere.com)

Minnesota health officials, who have deployed to Worthington to conduct wider testing of the JBS workforce and surrounding community, have issued guidelines for how meat packing facilities can safely operate.

The closures of meatpacking plants in Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado and Minnesota this week because of COVID-19 outbreaks are raising questions about how to safely operate slaughterhouses amid a pandemic.

The document calls for temperature and symptom screening by nurses when employees report to work and for frequent sanitizing of work equipment and common areas.

Because plant workers often are standing within inches of each other, health officials say plants should “install partitions of plexiglass…to provide barrier protection between workers where physical distancing of 6 feet cannot be consistently maintained.”

Staggering shifts, lunch and break times are another suggestion to “prevent congregating in changing rooms, entrance areas, transport areas, health screening areas, timeclock areas.”

The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, like Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a major hub, producing roughly 4% of the country’s pork supply. Smithfield produced about 5%.

Nobles County, home to Worthington, now has more than 100 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, many tied to the JBS plant, which processes 20,000 hogs per day.

The New York Times examined how meat processing plants, which have consolidated in recent decades, are among the weakest links in the country’s food-supply system.

“Shutting down one plant, even for a few weeks, is like closing an airport hub,” Michael Corkery and David Yaffe-Bellany reported Sunday. “It backs up hog and beef production across the country, crushes prices paid to farmers and eventually leads to months of meat shortages.”

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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