U.S. meat packing plants close after employees get coronavirus, show symptoms

The two closures related to coronavirus cases so far are not enough to impact U.S. food supply chain, expert

Updated: April 10, 2020 - 2:41pm

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Meat processing plants in the U.S. have suspended operations because employees are infected with the coronavirus or showing virus-like symptoms.

At least two have closed in recent days – a Tyson Foods hog slaughterhouse in Iowa and JBS USA’s beef plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania, according to Reuters

The Tysons facility closed after more than 24 confirmed cases of coronavirus involving employees. The company plans to send hogs to other pork plants to minimize disruptions.

"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, Tyson CEO Noel White said Monday. "Out of an abundance of caution, we have suspended operations at our Columbus Junction, Iowa, pork plant this week"

The closures have raised concerns about disruptions to the U.S. food supply chain amid the pandemic, as officials and industry experts continue to say the U.S. still has enough food and ways to get it to store shelves. 

JBS, a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS SA, reduced operations at the facility last week after senior managers suffered flu-like symptoms, according to the wire service. Operations are reportedly set to restart Thursday.

A third U.S. facility,  a National Beef Packing Co.’s slaughterhouse in Tama, Iowa, has also closed, but officials said that the change is for a cleaning scheduled for later this month.

Analysts say the recent closures represent only a small percentage of the overall domestic food supply and should not result in shortages at stores.

Christine McCracken, senior analyst of animal protein for Rabobank, told CNN that the U.S. has a large enough meat inventory to prevent shortages for consumers.

“Retail is full,” she said. “I don’t anticipate any real shortages for the consumer.”