Chinese-owned meat packing giant Smithfield Foods has closed two additional plants in the U.S. after coronavirus outbreaks, raising concerns about the American food supply chain.
Smithfield announced the closures of packing plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin and Martin City, Missouri on Wednesday, days after its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant was indefinitely shuttered.
The Sioux Falls plant, where 518 employees and 120 of their family members have tested positive for coronavirus, is now the largest single source of cases in the U.S., and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has dispatched a critical response team to the scene.
Smithfield said in a statement that a ‘small number of employees’ at both the Cudahy and the Martin City plants had tested positive for the virus, without offering further details.
Smithfield’s Sioux Falls plant, where 518 employees and 120 of their family members have tested positive for coronavirus, is now closed indefinitely
Shelves at this Publix in Atlanta are seen stripped bare last month after panic buying. Plant closures now threaten the supply of pork in the US, raising the possibility of shortages
The Cudahy plant, which processes dry sausage and bacon, will be closed for two weeks, during which time employees will continue to be paid and rigorous deep cleaning and sanitization will be repeated.
Union members at the Cudahy plant criticized the company last month for continuing to operate after the union said two employees tested positive for coronavirus.
The Martin City plant, which produces spiral and smoked hams, receives raw materials from the shuttered Sioux Falls plant, and will not be able to reopen until officials clear the upstream plant to reopen, the company said.
‘The closure of our Martin City plant is part of the domino effect underway in our industry,’ Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan said in a statement.
‘It highlights the interdependence and interconnectivity of our food supply chain. Our country is blessed with abundant livestock supplies, but our processing facilities are the bottleneck of our food chain,’ he continued.
Smithfield’s Martin City, Missouri plant (above), which produces spiral and smoked hams, receives raw materials from the shuttered Sioux Falls plant, and will close indefinitely
The Cudahy, Wisconsi plant, which processes dry sausage and bacon, will be closed for two weeks for repeated deep cleaning and sanitization
‘This is why our government has named food and agriculture critical infrastructure sectors and called on us to maintain operations and normal work schedules,’ Sullivan said. ‘For the security of our nation, I cannot understate how critical it is for our industry to continue to operate unabated.’
Sullivan said that Smithfield has implemented rigorous protocols to try to protect workers, use of thermal scanning, personal protective equipment and physical barriers, and that the company tells any employee who feels sick to remain home on paid sick leave.
The company’s Sioux Falls plant, which employs some 3,700 workers, is a massive food processing hub supplying Americans with nearly 130 million servings of food per week, or about 18 million servings per day.
The plant processes roughly five percent of the U.S. pork supply.
Smithfield, which is based in Virginia, was purchased by Chinese meat processing giant WH Group in 2013 for $4.72 billion.
WH Group Chairman Wan Long (left) and Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan (right) are seen above. WH Group bought Smithfield in 2013 for $4.72 billion
A package of Smithfield Foods breakfast sausage is seen in a file photo. The company’s Sioux Falls plant processes five percent of the American pork supply
The Food and Drug Administration has said that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of coronavirus.
Smithfield has not been the only meat processor to shut down plants due to workplace outbreaks of coronavirus.
Last week, Tyson Foods was forced to suspend operations at a pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, after more than 24 employees there tested positive for coronavirus.
‘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,’ Tyson CEO Noel White said in a statement on April 6.
Meanwhile, JBS USA, another major meat processor, has stopped operations at its beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania due to sick employees there. The plant plans to reopen April 16, after two weeks.
Cargill also paused operations at its protein plant in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where 900 people typically work.