WILLMAR, MINN. — The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Willmar has caused Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., to close its two Jennie-O Turkey Store plants there. Management said 14 employees out of the 1,200 employed at the plant had tested positive for the virus as of April 23, and the company expected more to test positive as additional tests were conducted.
"The health, well-being and safety of our team members is our top priority,” said Steve Lykken, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to take a pause in operations. 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."
The two plants slaughter and process turkey. Production from Willmar will be transferred to other Jennie-O Turkey Store manufacturing plants, according to the company.
"During this pause, we will maintain our thorough food processing sanitation practices, as well as the enhanced procedures that we have been employing since the emergence of COVID-19,” Mr. Lykken said. “The facilities will be deep cleaned, including all common areas and high-touch surfaces. 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.”
In an April 15 interview with Minnesota’s West Central Tribune, Mr. Lykken said the company would start taking the temperature of employees at the plants starting the week of April 20. On April 21, Jennie-O announced an unspecified number of employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Willmar plants are not the first Hormel Foods plants to shut down due to the virus. On April 18, Hormel Foods temporarily closed its meat processing plants in Alma, Kan., and Rochelle, Ill. On April 21, Don Miguel Foods, LLC, a subsidiary of MegaMex Foods, which is a joint venture owned by Herdez Del Fuerte and Hormel Foods Corp., temporarily closed a plant in Dallas that manufactures tacos, burritos and other Mexican prepared foods.