COVID-19 Pandemic

World’s Largest Pork Producer Shutdown Due to Largest COVID-19 Cluster in US

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One of the largest pork processing plants in the nation has closed its doors recently. On April 12th, Smithfield Foods announced that their Sioux Falls, SD Facility would remain closed until further notice. 

With close to 1,000 cases of confirmed COVID-19 in the county, Smithfield Foods’ meat processing plant in Minnehaha County in Sioux Falls, SD is now being considered the largest coronavirus hotbeds in the United States. To put this in perspective, the entire state of South Dakota has only 1,311 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

The chain of events that led to the closure is a little disconcerting, to say the least. According to the company itself, Smithfield Foods offered a “$500 Responsibility Bonus” to its employees working during the coronavirus pandemic. However, several employees have said that they would only get the bonus if they did not miss any work during the month of April.  This bonus was offered even after employees in the South Dakota plant tested positive for COVID-19 in late March.

Smithfield Foods then planned to shutter the plant for three days, from April 11th through April 13th.

Smithfield Foods stated that they instituted a “series of stringent and detailed protocols that follow the strict guidance of the CDC“, including instructing workers who tested positive for COVID-19 not to report to work and contact a healthcare provider so they could be quarantined with pay.  The company has also stated that they “enhanced the cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces and are continuing to stress the importance of personal hygiene” in addition to taking the following precautions:

  • Added extra hand sanitizing stations
  •  Boosted personal protective equipment
  •  Continuing to stress importance of personal hygiene
  •  Enhanced cleaning and disinfection
  •  Expanded employee health benefits
  •  Implementing thermal scanning
  •  Increased social distancing in common areas
  •  Installed plexiglass barriers
  •  Restricting all nonessential visitors

The April 12th announcement to close came after the state’s Governor and the Sioux Falls mayor sent a letter to the facility to close for a minimum of two weeks so the facility could clean and allow ill employees to recover. 

On April 15th, Smithfield Foods announced that due to the fact that a “small number of employees at both plants have tested positive for COVID-19” it would also be closing two more facilities:

  • Cudahy, Wisconsin (Dry sausage and bacon plant)
  • Martin City, Missouri (Spiral and smoked ham plant)

Smitfield Foods considered to be the world’s largest pork product producer. It processes meat products from popular brands like:

  • Smithfield®
  • Eckrich®
  • Nathan’s Famous®
  • Farmland®
  • Armour®
  • Farmer John®
  • Kretschmar®
  • John Morrell®
  • Cook’s®
  • Gwaltney®
  • Carando®
  • Margherita®
  • Curly’s®
  • Healthy Ones®
  • Morliny®
  • Krakus®
  • and Berlinki®

What does this mean for consumers? 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers probably do not have to worry about coming into contact with the virus through purchasing or consuming meat or other food products. 

According to the FDA,

Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.

Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

But, what about food shortages? 

As of March 17th, the FDA states that there are no nationwide shortages of food. That may be hard to believe for some, based on the shelves at their local supermarkets. However, much of the panic buying my be regional, and doesn’t necessarily translate into an entire nationwide shortage of food.

We live in a somewhat uncertain and frightening time, though. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we may not have an issue getting certain food products in the future. 

Meat shortages due to coronavirus are some of the biggest concerns on consumers’ minds right now. With the closure of the Smithfield Foods’ plants across the nation, we may be looking at the possibility of certain brands of meat products becoming scarce for a time. 

Smithfield Foods CEO Kenneth Sullivan stated “it is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.” The Sioux Falls Smithfield Foods plant provides 4% to 5% of the pork in the United States alone. This closure combined with the handful of other meat processing plant closures recently, and consumers could find it a bit harder to find their favorite meal time proteins on supermarket shelves. 

Other meat processing plant closures include:

  • Tyson Foods (Columbus Junction, Iowa)
  • National Beef Packing (Tama, Iowa)
  • JBS USA (Souderton, Pennsylvania)
  • JBS USA (Greeley, Colorado – Reduced Production)
  • Cargill Meat Solutions (Hazelton, Pennsylvania)

The closure of meat processing facilities may not be the only thing that could lead to a possible meat shortage either. When news of meat processing plants shutting down starts making the rounds, it could trigger more panic buying and stockpiling among consumers. (Toilet paper flashbacks anyone?) 

So, where does that leave consumers who might be having trouble finding meat now or in the future?

We improvise! Start looking into meatless meal options, just in case.  Black beans, for instance, can be a great substitute for some meats and are packed with protein. When seasoned and prepared well, beans of any sort can make a great substitute for meat in almost any meal! And, let’s not forget salads and fresh veggies. Nothing beats a yummy salad, and it’s good for you! 

Bottom line? No matter what happens, we are NOT alone and we WILL get through this! Things might get tough at time, but that doesn’t mean that we need to go to extremes. Communities need to pull together and think of each other at  time like this. While fear and panic may make us feel like we need to buy the whole shelf of grocery items, common sense and common decency should reign us in right now. Buy what you need, for sure, and even stock up on some essentials.

Think twice, though, before taking more than you need, especially if it will cause shortages in your local stores. Remember that panic buying and hoarding are some of the biggest reasons for empty shelves in our local supermarkets. 

Finally, a note about the origins of Smithfield Foods and it’s products… 

There are several posts swirling about on social media claiming that Smithfield Foods is a “Chinese company” and that their products come from China. This is only partially true. 

Smithfield Foods is an American meat-processing company based in Virginia. Shareholders of Smithfield Foods, however, did vote to approve a partnership with a publicly traded Hong Kong company back in 2013. 

The reason for the partnership, though, may not be what some consumers believe. The Hong Kong company is not looking to offload Chinese pork to the United States. Instead, they are looking to import American meat to China, due to rising production cost and quality concerns. 

So, does what does mean for the pork products sold in the United States? It’s pretty simple. According to the Smithfield website

Smithfield has not, does not, and will not import any products from China to the United States. No Smithfield products come from animals raised, processed, or packaged in China. All our U.S. products are made in one of our nearly 50 facilities across America. These products are produced in compliance with the strict standards and regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal and state authorities.

Hopefully, the points brought up in this post can set your mind at ease regarding a number of concerns. Now, we want to hear from you! Meat shortage or no, what are your favorite meatless meal go-tos?


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