SPRINGDALE, ARK. – While it has suspended operations at its Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant, Tyson Foods Inc. is taking a proactive approach to ensure the rest of its processing facilities remain in operation while minimizing risks to employees during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Iowa plant was closed after more than 24 employees tested positive for the virus. Approximately 1,400 workers are employed at the facility.

Noel White, chief executive officer at Tyson, said the company is taking steps to maintain social distancing in its facilities as well as equipping workers with personal protection equipment (PPE) and taking the temperature of employees before they enter plants. Some facilities have been equipped with temperature scanners. Additional cleaning and sanitizing of plants has also become part of the company’s precautions

“We’ve been taking the temperature of workers at all of our locations before they enter company facilities,” White said. “We’re mostly using temporal thermometers but at a few locations we’re beginning to implement infrared temperature scanners. In addition, we’ve stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas, to protect our team members. This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.”

White said the company is working with governmental agencies to access adequate PPE, specifically face masks or shields to protect workers in processing plants.

“We’re working to secure an adequate supply of protective face coverings for production workers and have implemented interim protocols for temporary protective coverings, while observing food safety,” White said. 

To ensure social distancing, Tyson is experimenting with different types of in-plant enhancements, including increasing space between workers and building dividers between work stations, which may slow down production lines.

“We’re also creating more room in non-production areas,” White added. “For example, at some locations, we’ve set up tents to create outdoor break rooms.

“Our meat and poultry plants are experiencing varying levels of production impact, due to the planned implementation of additional worker safety precautions and worker absenteeism.”

As for the impact of the closure of the Iowa plant, Tyson is rerouting hog shipments to its other plants in the region.

“While these are challenging times, we remain committed to protecting our people while continuing to meet the needs of our customers and consumers across America,” White said.