Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., the beef and pork subsidiary of Tyson Foods, Inc., is voluntarily closing its Logansport, Ind., facility while its more than 2,200 team members undergo testing. The company is working closely with the Cass County Health Department to conduct COVID-19 testing beginning as early as tomorrow.
The pork processing facility, which produces 3 million pounds of pork daily and helps support more than 250 independent family farmers from across nine states, suspended production for one day on April 20 for additional deep cleaning and sanitizing. Since then, the facility has been running at limited production and is expected to stop production on or before Saturday, April 25.
"While we understand the necessity of keeping our facilities operational so that we can continue to feed the nation, the safety of our team members remains our top priority," says Steve Stouffer, group president of Tyson Fresh Meats. "Our company is deeply embedded in our plant communities, including Logansport. We're working with the county to make sure our people and the community are safe. The combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close."
Affected Logansport team members will continue to be compensated while the plant is closed. Resumption of operations will depend on a variety of factors, including the outcome of team member testing for COVID-19. Tyson Fresh Meats is working with the county health department on plans to re-open as quickly as possible.
"We're pleased with Tyson's collaboration to protect our community," says Dori Ditty, health officer of Cass County Health Department. "Tyson Fresh Meats is an economic anchor for our community and is critical for the food supply. We want to get the facility back up and running as safely and quickly as possible, which is why we've both decided to close the facility in order to test all employees.
"We're aware that while employees are practicing protective measures at work, they may not be practicing it at home which is critical to help stop overall community spread," Ditty says. "Tyson has done its part in implementing measures and are now working with us to test workers. We're making a clear commitment to do our part to mitigate the spread within the community by reinforcing CDC guidelines in our county."
"Tyson Fresh Meats opened its doors for a group of county and state officials to tour the facility," says Cass County Commissioner, Ryan Browning. "We were impressed with the aggressive protective measures the company has implemented. We observed social distancing measures such as installing workstation dividers, putting barriers on break tables to create distance and putting foot door operators so people don't have to touch doorknobs. Information is key in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. Throughout their facility, flyers were posted in a number of languages with CDC guidance."
Tyson Foods has been focused on COVID-19 since January when it formed a company coronavirus task force. It has since implemented numerous measures to protect workers. It was one of the first food companies to start taking worker temperatures and is in the process of installing more than 150 infrared temperature scanners in its facilities.
The company started efforts to secure a supply of face coverings before the CDC recommended them and now requires their use in all facilities. In an effort to promote social distancing, many company facilities have installed workstation dividers and are providing more breakroom space. While Tyson Foods is working with local officials to protect team members during this ever-changing situation, the company takes its responsibility seriously to continue feeding people across the country during this global health pandemic.
"Closing facilities has serious implications to the national food supply for American families, local communities, growers and farmers," Stouffer says. "When a facility closes, the availability of protein for consumers across the nation will only decrease. Consumers will see an impact at the grocery store as production slows. It also means the loss of a vital market outlet for farmers and contributes to the disruption of the nation's pork supply."
Tyson Foods announced recently its plans to indefinitely suspend operations at Tyson Fresh Meats' Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant this week. The company's other meat and poultry plants currently continue to operate, but some are running at reduced levels of production either due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions or worker absenteeism. The company has suspended production for a day at some locations for additional deep cleaning and sanitization.
"Pork packing and processing plants are already some of the most sanitary facilities in the country, but many are taking special precautions to ensure worker safety. Recently, the Tyson Foods plant in Logansport, Ind., shut down for a day to perform additional deep cleaning and sanitation measures, in addition to mandated use of face masks and the implementation of social-distancing protocols. Today (April 22, 2020), Tyson committed to an additional voluntary shutdown to thoroughly test employees," says Josh Trenary, executive director of Indiana Pork. "This is not unique to the Logansport plant as processing plants across the country are shutting down to make sure they are giving an adequate nod to worker safety. In the long run, if that's what it takes to make sure plant employees are safe and plants can continue to operate then it's all worth it. In the meantime though, these temporary shutdowns and other plant labor issues across the country are causing even more of a backup of pigs on farms. Severe backups can cause animal welfare issues that farmers may have to take drastic measures to resolve.
"Indiana farmers want access to markets and to continue to provide quality pork to consumers, but they need adequate packing capacity to do it. The decision to temporarily close a plant is a major detriment to pork farmers, especially in light of all other previous closures across the country. Indiana pig farmers remain committed to providing the best animal care practices even during this pandemic. Indiana Pork hopes that local and state health officials and Tyson management are able to work quickly to get this important part of our pork industry up and running as soon as possible."