UPDATE: April 14, 2020: JBS announced it will temporarily close its beef production facility in Greeley, Colorado until April 24. The Greeley plant will slow down production and operations over the next two days with less staff.
- Tyson Foods and JBS U.S. Holdings are closing meat processing facilities as employees fall ill and concerns about the spread of coronavirus through facilities rise, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Tyson Foods temporarily closed a pork production plant with 1,400 workers in Columbus Junction, Iowa after more than 24 employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to Meat + Poultry. To prevent additional plant closures, CNBC reported Tyson is rolling out infrared body temperature scanners at three of its processing facilities.
- JBS closed a beef-processing plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania for two weeks, but is continuing to operate one in Greeley, Colorado. Workers at the Greeley plant accuse JBS of insufficiently promoting social distancing and hygiene, which has led to an investigation on site safety by the Weld County Health Department, The Denver Channel reported.
CPG companies of all sizes have been promoting increased safety measures to protect employees. However, it seems like the current efforts may not be enough. Employees at Sanderson Farms, Coca-Cola bottling plants in Washington State and California, and Nestlé's Purina distribution center in Pennsylvania tested positive for the virus. Now, Tyson and JBS are experiencing cases of COVID-19 spreading through their ranks as well.
To combat the spread of the coronavirus in other facilities, Tyson Foods is rolling out infrared scanners. Although CNBC reports the FDA has not approved infrared body temperature scanners as a means to detect fevers — a common symptom of COVID-19 — the popularity of this technology is rising.
At Tyson, the scanners are placed at facility entrances. However, because of the size of the workforce at each location — the company’s Nebraska beef facility produces enough food every day to feed 18 million people — Tyson also needs to promote social distancing among employees even before they come into the building.
Working in close quarters caused JBS employees to voice concerns for their personal safety. Employees complain JBS is ignoring calls for social distancing and is improperly disinfecting equipment and communal spaces, according to the local Denver news channel. As a result, the Weld County Health Department has prioritized the investigation of the company facilities. Depending on the health department’s findings, the result could be a facility closure or mandate for more rigorous decontamination protocols to promote worker safety and prevent the virus from further spread.
The situation at JBS is not unique. An estimated two dozen Perdue Farms workers walked off the job in Georgia, saying the company wasn't doing enough to protect them from the virus or pay them fairly in this risky time. Similarly, a Midwest Coca-Cola bottler and distributor has drawn criticism from the Teamsters because the union said the company encourages employees to come to work sick.
The close quarters required for meatpacking makes keeping the virus spread at bay a difficult task for companies. While obvious measures such as decreasing interpersonal contact or providing personal protective equipment to individual employees can help curtail the spread, companies need to balance employee safety with production.
As essential businesses feeding a country whose grocery shopping habits are verging on hoarding, production in meat processing plants across the country is adjusting to deliver. But if fewer workers are present at each shift and production lines are slowed, there could be issues in providing an adequate quantity of products to consumers. Still, if the virus continues to spread and more workers fall ill, companies will either have to dig into their coffers to quickly hire and train new employees or they will be forced to slow production and retain experienced workers, albeit at a safer distance from one another.