Tyson Foods suspends operations at Iowa pork plant because of COVID-19

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,584 views 

Springdale-based Tyson Foods is closing its large Junction City, Iowa, hog processing plant after a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility. The facility is responsible for about 2% of the nation’s total slaughtering capacity, according to industry estimates.

Tyson Foods CEO Noel White said Monday (April 6) the meat giant continues to fight the coronavirus outbreak on all fronts putting the safety of its workforce first while also trying to meet the soaring demand for products as consumers continue to empty grocery shelves amid stay-at-home orders. He said the company’s meat and poultry plants are experiencing varying levels of production because of the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have suspended operations at our Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant this week due to more than two dozen cases of COVID-19 involving team members at the facility. In an effort to minimize the impact on our overall production, we’re diverting the livestock supply originally scheduled for delivery to Columbus Junction to some of our other pork plants in the region. While these are challenging times, we remain committed to protecting our people while continuing to meet the needs of our customers and consumers across America,” White said.

The Columbus Junction facility kills about 10,100 hogs a day. Industry analysts estimate that’s about 2% of the country’s total slaughtering capacity.

Tyson is also taking the temperature of workers at all locations before they enter the facility, including the use of temporal thermometers and infrared temperature scanners. Tyson has also stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of all facilities including break rooms, locker rooms and restrooms. This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production, White said.

“We’re also coordinating with federal agencies to emphasize the need for personal protective equipment to support our team members as we remain open. We’re working to secure an adequate supply of protective face coverings for production workers and have implemented interim protocols for temporary protective coverings while observing food safety,” White said.

The shortage of personal protective equipment has been widely reported with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson telling Talk Business & Politics orders for PPE destined for Arkansas have been diverted to other states experiencing more cases and even other countries who kept the materials from ever being shipped.

White said Tyson Foods continues to explore and implement additional ways to promote more social distancing in its plants. This includes erecting dividers between workstations or increasing the space between workers on the production floor, which can involve slowing production lines. The company is also creating more room in non-production areas. For example, at some locations, tents are set up outdoors for break rooms.

Tyson is not the only packer to suspend processing. National Beef Packing suspended cattle slaughtering at its plant in Tama, Iowa, this week for a deep cleaning that was overdue.

Shares of Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) closed Monday at $56.45, up $2.63 amid a broad market rally. Shares have traded between $42.57 and $94.24 during the past 52 weeks.