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Smithfield reopening key hog slaughterhouse this weekend while others remain closed

Smithfield Foods in St. Charles Ill., a large pork processor, remains closed by orders of Kane County Health Department due to COVID-19 outbreak. Its plant in Monmouth is due to reopen Saturday.
Smithfield Foods in St. Charles Ill., a large pork processor, remains closed by orders of Kane County Health Department due to COVID-19 outbreak. Its plant in Monmouth is due to reopen Saturday.
(Joe Biesk / Chicago Tribune)

Smithfield Foods plans to reopen its large hog slaughterhouse in Monmouth, Ill., on Saturday after a weeklong shutdown due to cases of COVID-19 among workers.

The facility, which employs 1,700 people and accounts for 3% of U.S. pork products, was among three Illinois pork processing plants that closed last week. The company had previously said a “small portion” of its Monmouth employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, it did not provide any details about the decision to reopen.

The company’s meat processing plant in St. Charles, Ill., remains closed a week after the Kane County Health Department ordered its temporary shutdown. The county on Friday said a worker at the plant died.

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“We are saddened to learn of the death of a worker from the Smithfield plant in St. Charles,” Barbara Jeffers, executive director of the Health Department, said Friday in a news release. “The Kane County Health Department extends our condolences to the family. We are continuing our investigation at the facility to assure worker safety when the plant re-opens.”

Limited operations have been underway at the plant since Wednesday to package and ship pork that was in production at the time of the closure order, but the facility is not accepting any new raw food, the county said. Before it can fully reopen the plant, which employs 325 people, Smithfield must submit to the county a plan to control infectious disease in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, has agreed to pay to have employees at the facility tested for COVID-19, the county said.

Smithfield has said masks are stocked and in use at each of its facilities around the country. It also has implemented thermal scanning companywide and installed clear plastic and other physical barriers on production floors and in break rooms. Employees are instructed not to report to work if they are sick and are paid while absent, the company said.

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In Rochelle, Ill., Hormel’s Rochelle Foods plant, which makes bacon and deli meat, remains closed after being ordered shut by the Ogle County Health Department. The company had planned to reopen the facility, where 800 people work, on Monday, though it didn’t immediately respond to a request for an update Friday.

More than 20 meat processing plants have closed in the last two months as workers fell ill with COVID-19 and at least 20 workers have died, according to a union that represents 250,000 meatpacking workers. Social distancing protocols are difficult to enforce on production lines where many work elbow to elbow.

President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to keep meat processing plants open because of worries that their closures would hurt the food supply, raising concern from unions and labor advocates that worker safety would be jeopardized. Farmers facing dwindling markets warned they’d have to destroy livestock and retailers were starting to see higher meat prices and limited selection.


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