Cargill to Idle Canadian Meat Plant After Covid Cases

Cargill Inc. is temporarily shutting down its beef processing plant in the Canadian province of Ontario after some employees tested positive for Covid-19.

“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our Guelph protein facility,” Jon Nash, Cargill Protein’s North American leader, said Thursday in an emailed statement. “Our focus now is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations.”

The closure comes just as the winter starts to kick in, raising concerns the meat industry could see a second wave of shutdowns caused by the spread of the coronavirus. At least 1,256 meatpacking and food processing plants and 269 farms and production facilities in the U.S. have had confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The idling is being done due to “an abundance of caution as our local workforce deals with the community-wide impacts of Covid-19,” Cargill said in the statement. A company spokeswoman confirmed that some plant employees tested positive for the virus and that a number of workers were quarantined as a safety precaution.

“This is not just a Cargill spread, but community-wide spread in Guelph,” she said.

Contact Tracing

Cargill’s Guelph plant, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Toronto has two operations and the Covid outbreak has affected the Dunlop facility where cattle are slaughtered, according to Tim Deelstra, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents 960 workers at the plant. At least 39 employees who worked at Dunlop’s harvest department, formerly called the kill floor, tested positive, he said.

“Initially two people tested positive about two weeks ago. That started the process of contact tracing through public health and the employer,” Deelstra said. “It appears the initial infection came from outside of the plant, from the community.”

The union will advocate for the best measures that keep people safe, “which may include a longer shutdown,” Deelstra said. “The facility will be completely idled as of the end of today.”

The local public health agency said in a Thursday afternoon statement that 82 workers at the Dunlop facility tested positive and 129 individual are self-isolating as a precaution. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said it did a full infection prevention and control review of the facility during the past week and tested about 200 people.

To prevent food waste, Cargill will process the nearly 1.55 million meals worth of protein currently in the facility, according to Nash. Dunlop processes 1,500 head of cattle per day, according to the company’s website.

“Cargill is encouraging employees to be tested,” according to the company statement. “We have also stressed the importance of social distancing for those across the community who have been impacted by the virus.”

Cargill is providing safety measures including temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, and face coverings. The company also said employees will be paid the 36 hours per week as outlined in agreement with unions.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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