A St. Charles food plant has begun limited operations after a closure amid concerns about COVID-19 and the death of one of its workers from the virus.
Smithfield Foods started with limited operations April 29 after implementing worker safety measures, and steps to safely package and ship existing product, which had been in production at the time a recent closure order was issued.
The Kane County Health Department issued the closure order to Smithfield on April 24. The following day, the St. Charles company voluntarily consented to the closure order, according to the Kane County Health Department.
Since that time, Barbara Jeffers, executive director of the Health Department, members of her senior staff, and representatives of the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office have met with Smithfield officials to review mitigation efforts, as well as provide recommendations relative to social distancing and other employee safety measures, including personal protective equipment.
“We are saddened to learn of the death of a worker from the Smithfield plant in St. Charles,” said Jeffers. “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 reopens.”
Smithfield said that it has instituted a series of stringent and detailed processes and protocols that follow, and in many cases exceed, the strict guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19 in the workplace and educating employees about how to protect themselves outside of work,” the company said on its COVID-19 response page.
The company said its steps have included:
- Adding abundant hand sanitizing stations.
- Boosting personal protective equipment, including masks.
- Enhancing cleaning and disinfection.
- Ensuring employees know how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect themselves and others.
- Expanding employee health benefits and removed all barriers in our health plan to accessing medical care including eliminating co-pays for COVID-19 related testing and treatment.
- Explicitly instructing employees not to report to work if they are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
- Implementing thermal scanning.
“All these actions complement the extensive safety measures in place at all our locations and are on top of the extremely hygienic and sanitary environments maintained at all times in our industry for food safety and quality purposes,” the company said. “We continue to actively monitor CDC guidance, as well as that of state and local health authorities, and are immediately taking all necessary actions to protect our employees.”
Kane County’s Jeffers said the facility did not accept any new raw food product for processing during the closure.
In order to fully reopen, the facility will need to develop a comprehensive plan to control infectious disease in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and IDPH guidance, which will be submitted to the Kane County Health Department, according to department officials.
Smithfield has additionally agreed to pay to have every employee at the facility tested for COVID-19, the Health Department said.
The full reopening date of the facility remains undetermined.