Another Indiana pork plant closing temporarily during pandemic

A second pork processing plant in north-central Indiana announced Friday it was temporarily suspending operations for up to two weeks out of caution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Indiana Packers Corp. issued a statement saying it made the decision in light of the increasing numbers of positive tests of COVID-19 in neighboring communities and reports that Indiana was closing in on its expected peak of infections.

“Given the uncertainty so inherent with this pandemic, we are committed to be as proactive as we possibly can so as to best ensure the health and safety of our team members,” company president and chief operating officer Russ Yearwood said.

The company has had 15 positive COVID-19 cases, the statement said. The shutdown will be conducted in phases over several days, and workers will be paid during the shutdown.

Tyson Foods Inc. announced Wednesday it was temporarily closing its pork processing plant in Logansport, about 25 miles away, after 146 employees there tested positive for the coronavirus.

Indiana Packers said that over the past several months, it has implemented several changes, including steps to maximize physical distancing, enhanced daily cleaning and sanitization, and employee screenings/temperature checks at the start of each work shift.

Indiana Pork, a not-for-profit association representing Indiana’s 3,000 family pork farmers, said the situation was a tough one.

“Indiana farmers want access to markets and to continue to provide quality pork to consumers, but they need adequate packing capacity to do it,” said Josh Trenary, executive director of Indiana Pork. “The decision to temporarily close Indiana Packers is a major detriment to pork farmers, especially in light of all other previous closures across the country. Worker safety must come first, and we know that that local and state health officials and Indiana Packers management are working quickly to get this important part of our pork industry up and running as soon as possible.”

Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work.

Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota, and a Redwood Farms Meat Processors in Estherville, Iowa. Others have stayed open or resumed production after pauses for testing and cleaning.

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