Employees at two Stearns County food processing plants test positive for COVID-19

Employees at two food processing plants in Stearns County, Minnesota have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Stearns County leaders.

County officials say employees at Pilgrim’s Pride in Cold Spring and Jennie-O in Melrose tested positive for the virus. The county, Minnesota Department of Health and CentraCare are working with the facilities.

"Both companies proactively implemented strategies to keep employees safe while continuing their operations," read a release from Stearns County officials. "Once plans for follow-up are finalized, employees will be notified with additional information and direction."

Statement from Jennie-O President Steve Lykken:

"Jennie-O can confirm that we have had employees who have tested positive for coronavirus at our Melrose Plant.

"At Jennie-O, the health and well-being of our team members is our highest priority. As the global pandemic continues to evolve, we know it is top of mind for our team members, customers, consumers, partners and communities. 

"As team members are impacted by COVID-19, we are doing what’s right and that includes quarantining and ensuring all close contacts are identified and also quarantined, as well as transparent communication with our team members, including translating communications into multiple languages. All impacted team members continue to receive 100 percent of pay and benefits while they are away from work. 

"We will also be transparent and report any possible closures of facilities due to deep cleaning or staffing issues that may be caused by COVID-19. We are not reporting individual cases as we have found that the situations in our communities are changing daily. 

"We continue to have the highest sanitation and food safety standards in all our production facilities. In addition, we have implemented enhanced operating protocols including education for team members on the COVID-19 virus, taking team members’ temperatures daily, using masks or personal protective face coverings, having on-site nurses who are available to answer questions and advise team members as well as helping them get access to local testing for COVID-19, increased sanitization frequency, updated policies and restrictions for visitors and business travel, and expanded remote work options for team members where applicable.  

"Our production facilities continue to operate with minimal disruption to our supply chain. 

"The company’s team of inspired people is working to ensure a consistent and steady food supply during this crisis."

Statement from Pilgrim's:

Pilgrim’s has had team members test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. We are offering support to those team members and their families, and we hope they all make a full and speedy recovery. Out of respect for the families, we are not releasing further information.

Team member health and safety is our top priority. No one is forced to come to work and no one is punished for being absent for health reasons. If someone is sick or lives with someone who is sick, we send them home.
Measures taken at the Cold Spring facility include:

•    Temperature testing all team members prior to entering facilities;
•    Providing extra personal protective equipment (PPE), including protective masks, which are required to be worn at all times;
•    Promoting physical distancing by staggering starts and breaks, and increasing spacing in cafeterias, break and locker rooms, including plexiglass dividers in key areas;
•    Increasing sanitation and disinfection efforts, including whole facility deep-cleaning every day;
•    Hiring dedicated staff whose only job is to continuously clean facilities, including common areas beyond the production floor;
•    Removing vulnerable populations from facilities, offering full pay and benefits;
•    Requiring sick team members to stay home from work;
•    Waiving short-term disability waiting periods;
•    Providing free 100% preventative care to all team members enrolled in the company’s health plan;
•    Offering free LiveHealth Online services for team members enrolled in the company’s health plan that allow for virtual doctor visits at no cost;
•    Educating and encouraging team members to practice social distancing at home and in the community outside of work; and
•    Restricting access to facilities and not allowing visitors.
The U.S. government has identified the food supply as a critical infrastructure industry and has stated we have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules on behalf of the nation. We take this responsibility seriously and are doing our best to safely provide food to the country during a challenging time.