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The pandemic begins again to hit North American meat plants

(Bloomberg) – Meat packers across North America are preparing for a coronavirus case resurgence, trying to avoid the downtime that left supermarket shelves empty earlier during the pandemic. Cargill Inc. has temporarily shut down one of its beef factories in Canada tested positive after several employees. JBS, the world’s leading meat producer, sent thousands of vulnerable American workers home on paid vacation, while Sanderson Farms Inc. said its plants now have more absenteeism rates than they did during the pandemic. Beef to chicken producers want to prevent this type of disruption that shut several plants in the spring and cut meat supplies as consumers stocked up their refrigerators. Executives now say companies are better prepared after spending millions of dollars to reconfigure factories, implement social distancing, and distribute the protective gear workers need to stay safe while keeping the food supply chain going . A union executive warns that efforts to keep the facilities up and running come at a cost as extra hours are a physical strain on workers. “I don’t expect the same problems,” said Jon Nash, Head of Protein at Cargill North America, said in an interview. “In general, our industry is better prepared for the challenges. We know what we are dealing with. “We know a lot more than ever and I think our food supply chain is so stable that we’re fine,” he said. Cargill, World’s Largest Agricultural Commodity, Taken In Close Hand The dealer said Thursday it has temporarily closed its Ontario beef processing facility because “our local people are concerned with the impact of Covid-19 on the entire community”. “This is not just a Cargill spread, it’s a church.” – widespread in Guelph, ”about 90 kilometers west of Toronto, said April Nelson, a company spokeswoman. Earlier this month, JBS had sent more than 5,000 workers to the US since coronavirus cases began accelerating in October. Joe Sanderson, chairman of the board of directors of the third largest US chicken producer, said infections among its workers are increasing as cases increase in Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, the Carolinas and Louisiana. More absenteeism “We are still running and we are still We are busy, but there were now more cases of absenteeism than in summer or in spring,” he said in a call for earnings on Thursday. “It’s going to be more of a challenge for us now than it has been since this pandemic started.” The rise in cases in rural North America underscores the challenges meat packers face in preventing the virus from entering their facilities and spreading among employees. More than 50,000 meat packers in the US have tested positive for the virus and more than 260 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Meat packers have spent millions installing plexiglass partitions, expanding lockers and cafeteria areas, providing masks and face shields. Foster Farms, a chicken producer in California, said it tests workers twice a week and removes vulnerable workers from its factories. Tyson spent $ 540 million customizing its U.S. facilities in fiscal 2020, adding temperature scanners, workstation dividers, and social distance monitors, the company said in a statement earlier this month. It tests thousands of employees every week, including those who are symptomatic, a Tyson spokesman said, adding that the company has appointed a chief medical officer and hired 200 additional nurses. JBS invested more than $ 200 million in health and safety and over $ 160 million to pay higher wages, according to a company spokesman. The company has also staggered start times and breaks to encourage social distancing, installed UV germicidal air sanitary and plasma bipolar ionization technologies to neutralize potential viruses in the air, and initiated temperature checks. “Smithfield has invested more than $ 700 million in extensive measures aimed at preventing Covid-19,” said a company spokesman. People work more extra hours and Saturdays, and since the lines can’t reach the same speed with fewer people, it now takes 20 hours, according to Mark Lauritsen, which used to take around 16 hours, Director of Food Processing, Packaging and Manufacturing at the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.3 million workers in the US and Canada. “All of those extra hours will eventually take their toll,” he said. Some contracts have caps on hours, and for others, the union urges employers to guarantee days off to make sure the fees are not too high for their bodies The MixCargill product is still operating in the mid to high 90 percent of the time Capacity as it was able to offset localized problems by increasing production at other facilities, Nash said. The company has also changed its product mix to accommodate scarce labor and serve more retailers when restaurants close. Consumers may now find larger packages in supermarkets now, with ground beef being a case in point, Nash said. Cargill also makes more in-bone products, he said. JBS also said earlier this month that it is simplifying its product mix and that more labor-intensive processing operations like removing bones from pork ham or beef sirloin have been delayed as employees have to focus on essential tasks as industry slows down in some places? Potentially, ”said Nash. “If we get to a point where we cannot operate any part of our facility or facility safely or with the same food safety controls, we will shut it down.” The US meat industry wants its employees to do so, according to the North American Meat Institute is the top priority for vaccines once health care workers and people in long-term care facilities are shot. Joe Sanderson has promised to videotape the vaccine and send it to factories to incentivize workers to vaccinate. “We have flu shots for everyone and we hope to prepare to give Covid shots as soon as they’re available, we think in March or April,” Sanderson said. (Updates with Smithfield comment in paragraph 14) For more articles like this, visit bloomberg.com. Sign up now to stay up to date with the most trusted business news source. © 2020 Bloomberg LP

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