FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Cargill confirmed Wednesday that an employee at its Fresno County facility has tested positive for COVID-19.
The employee at the Cargill Protein facility on Fig Avenue just south of Fresno is receiving appropriate medical care, according to spokesman Daniel Sullivan.
The facility is part of the company’s North American beef, turkey, foodservice and food distribution businesses.
“They are a valued member of our team, and we offer them our support at this difficult time,” he said.
Cargill said COVID-19 is a community-wide public health issue and it is taking the lead with local health authorities to respond to the pandemic.
Sullivan has released the following statement on Cargill’s behalf:
Our services have been deemed essential – like health care workers and first responders. However, Cargill will only operate our facilities if we can do so safely. As we continue our work to keep people fed at this critical time, our focus is protecting the health of our employees and preventing the spread of the virus.Cargill
Cargill added it is working with local health officials to ensure appropriate prevention, testing, cleaning and quarantine protocols are followed within its facilities.
The company said it has taken extra precautions to support its workers, including:
- Enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for employees who have tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19, as well as any employees who may have come into contact with any team member who has tested positive for the virus;
- Temperature testing;
- Providing face masks;
- Enhancing the cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities;
- Prohibiting visitors from entering our facilities;
- Offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility for employees;
- Increasing distancing between employees; and
- Communicating the importance of social distancing at home and at work as well as the importance of quarantining and return-to-work timing.
The measures have been in place at the Fresno County facility for nearly a month.
Cargill will continue to adjust the policies and procedures as necessary, and in consultation with public health officials, to ensure that the plant and our employees are protected with the highest possible safety standards.
“Our employees are working hard to take care of the nation, so we are taking extra steps to care of them and their families,” Sullivan said.
In addition to the health and safety measures in place, Cargill is offering enhanced benefits to its employees, including providing up to 14 days of additional paid leave for COVID-19 related needs.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected hundreds of workers at meat-processing plants and forced some of the largest to close and others to slow production. While the output at beef and poultry plants has diminished, pork plants in the Midwest have been hit especially hard. The viral outbreaks have persisted despite efforts by the meat companies to keep workers at home with pay if they become sick.
On Sunday, the meat processing giant Tyson Foods ran a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and other newspapers outlining the difficulty of producing meat while keeping more than 100,000 workers safe and shutting some plants.
“This means one thing — the food supply chain is vulnerable,” the statement said. “As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain.”
Company spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Tyson family thought it was important to explain their perspective.
“The letter encourages government leaders to unite to address food supply chain challenges,” Mickelson said. “We are taking a proactive approach to balance safety and production by moving aggressively with testing and plant closures when necessary.”
Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute, an industry trade group, said: “It’s down across the board right now, so the next couple of weeks we should see how the system works. It’s never been tested like this before.”
Nationally, although the reduced meat supply is expected to cause consumer prices to rise, expectations are that the increases will be slight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said late last week that it expects beef prices to climb 1% to 2% this year, poultry as much as 1.5% and pork between by from 2% and 3%.
The agency acknowledged that consumer buying patterns change weekly and that some products face supply-chain disruptions that could affect prices. But the USDA said its planned $3 billion purchase of fresh produce, dairy and meat should help stabilize prices. The government will work with food distributors to provide the purchased products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving the needy.
President Donald Trump took executive action to order meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply.
The order signed Tuesday uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Unions fired back, saying the White House was jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.