SMITHFIELD, VA. — Smithfield Foods reversed course April 12 and said its Sioux Falls, SD, pork plant would close indefinitely following an outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) at the facility. On April 9, management had said the plant would close temporarily for three days as it underwent cleaning and equipment sanitation. The reversal occurred after South Dakota public health officials said there were more than 100 cases of COVID-19 linked to the pork plant.
The plant processes between 4% and 5% of US pork, according to the company. It employs 3,700.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.”
A full shutdown of the plant will not occur until later in the week. The company said it will process product in inventory on April 14.
“Numerous plants across the country have COVID-19 positive employees,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic. We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19.”
It will be up to local, state and federal officials to determine when operations at the plant resume, according to the company. Employees of the plant will continue to be paid for the next two weeks.