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Jennie-O Turkey Store announced Tuesday that it will temporarily pause operations at its Melrose, Minnesota facility in order to undergo a deep, facility-wide cleaning to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the wake of two other plants in the state closing last week.
"Our number one priority is the health, well-being and safety of our team members. That is why, out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to take a pause in operations at this location," said Jennie-O Turkey Store president Steve Lykken. "We continue to be thoughtful and considerate during this process as we work with health and safety consultants who are experts in mitigation strategies for COVID-19."
Last week, Jennie-O's parent company Hormel Foods was forced to shut down two Jennie-O plants in Willmar, Minnesota after 14 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Monday, 19 out of approximately 750 Jennie-O employees had tested positive for coronavirus.
According to the announcement, all Jennie-O employees will continue to receive 100 percent of their base pay and benefits during the pause in production.
The company says it is currently working with local and state health officials on coronavirus testing for its team members in an effort to provide additional safety. Jennie-O is also working with experts at the Mayo Clinic and other health institutions to provide its team members with the most updated information about the virus.
"We will continue to work with these outside experts as we develop our plan for reopening when the time is appropriate," Lykken added. "During this pause, we will continue our robust food processing sanitation practices, as well as the enhanced procedures that we have been using since the emergence of COVID-19. The facility will be deep cleaned, including all common areas and high-touch surfaces."
The company's safety measures include wellness screenings, masks, and personal protective equipment for employees and enhanced safety and sanitation protocols throughout its facilities.
The announcement comes the same day President Trump signed an executive order after promising he would invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure meat processing plants stay open during the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns over its impact on the nation's food supply.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue thanked the president for "recognizing the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure, and plentiful."
"Our nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain. Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount," Perdue said. "I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained. USDA will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.”
According to an online company profile, Jennie-O Turkey Store is comprised of a dozen lay farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants across Minnesota and Wisconsin. The company employs more than 7,000 in total. Besides the two processing plants in Willmar, it has five others in Faribault, Melrose, Montevideo and Pelican Rapids in Minnesota and one in Barron, Wisconsin.
Hormel Foods stock closed at $47.76 per share during Tuesday's trading session, up more than 2 percent.