Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc. announced April 24 that out of an abundance of caution, it will temporarily pause operations at two of its facilities located in Willmar, Minn. Based on information about the community spread of COVID-19 in the area, the company decided that it was the right decision to pause operations to undergo a facility-wide cleaning that will enhance already robust safety and sanitization protocols.
Under its pay program, all Jennie-O Turkey Store employees will continue to receive 100% of their base pay and benefits during the pause in production. Jennie-O Turkey Store is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp.
"The health, well-being and safety of our team members is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to take a pause in operations," Jennie-O Turkey Store president Steve Lykken said. "We are being thoughtful and considerate in our approach to this process. I want to recognize our production professionals for continuing to do an outstanding job as they work to keep food on tables during this unprecedented time. I am very proud of them, and I look forward to being back together as soon as we are able."
The company said it planned to wind down operations during this past weekend. As of April 23, 14 employees out of more than 1,200 had tested positive for COVID-19. Jennie-O has encouraged its staff to get tested now that additional tests are available. Health experts have told the company to expect that as testing increases, so will positive results. The company said it has strategic operation protocols and plans to ensure business continuity, including using its other facilities to continue to serve its customers during this time.
During the pause, Jennie-O said it will maintain its thorough food processing sanitation practices as well as the enhanced procedures that have been employed since the emergence of COVID-19.
“The facilities will be deep cleaned, including all common areas and high-touch surfaces," Lykken said. "Lastly, we have implemented wellness screenings, provided masks and additional personal protective equipment and enhanced safety and sanitation protocols throughout our facilities. We are working closely with external partners as we also develop our plan for reopening when the time is appropriate. As a long-standing and respected Minnesota company, our goal is to always do the right thing."
Acheson Group founder and chief executive officer Dr. David Acheson, who is trained in internal medicine and infectious diseases and was previously a chief medical officer at the Food & Drug Administration, said Jennie-O is leading with best-in-industry practices, including detailed employee wellness screenings, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, effective physical distancing and personal protective equipment usage and active employee quarantining that exceeds current Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.
“These measures are designed to protect the company's employees and the safety of their products and customers," Acheson said.