SMITHFIELD, VA. — Smithfield Foods, Inc. said it will close its Sioux City, SD, facility for three days after dozens of workers there tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
The company will partially suspend operations at the plant on April 11 and completely close the facility on April 12-13 to rigorously clean and sanitize equipment as well as install additional physical barriers to enhance social distancing. Employees will be paid for previously scheduled hours during the temporary closing, according to the company.
“Smithfield Foods is taking the utmost precautions and actions to ensure the health and well-being of our employees — with an even increased emphasis on our critical role in the ongoing supply of food to American families,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer for Smithfield. “Our Sioux Falls plant supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day, to our country. Our more than 40,000 US team members, thousands of American family farmers and our many other supply chain partners are a crucial part of our nation’s response to COVID-19.”
Smithfield said it has implemented safety protocols in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kim Malsam-Rysdon, South Dakota health secretary, confirmed during a press conference on April 8 that more than 80 employees at Smithfield Foods Inc.’s John Morrell pork plant in Sioux Falls have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We feed America. Not operating is not an option. People need to eat.” — Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield Foods
According to the South Dakota Department of Health website, there are 228 confirmed cases in Minnehaha County, where the majority of Sioux Falls sits. Forty-one people have recovered from COVID-19.
Smithfield Foods is one of several meat and poultry processors that have had to temporarily close plants recently after workers fell ill. Others include Cargill, Tyson Foods, Inc., JBS USA and Maple Leaf Foods.
“As an industry and as a nation, it is imperative that we continue to operate our feed mills, farms, plants and distribution centers,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Together with our peers and supply chain partners, which include millions of American crop and livestock farmers, we feed America. Not operating is not an option. People need to eat.
“Our government has identified agriculture and food production as critical to the response to COVID-19. They have emphasized over and over again our special responsibility to maintain operations and normal work schedules. They have been explicit: shelter-in-place orders do not apply to us. The reason is obvious. Food is essential for survival and civil society. So, we must produce food for our communities and our countries. It’s our obligation and duty to our fellow citizens.”