WILLMAR — Jennie-O Turkey Store has decided to temporarily close both of its Willmar production facilities, located on Willmar Avenue and Benson Avenue, to undergo facility-wide cleaning and to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
The announcement came Friday afternoon in a news release from the company. Operations will wind down through the weekend, the release said. There is no timeline yet for reopening of the facilities.
The company confirmed earlier this week that employees had come down with COVID-19. According to the news release, 14 employees out of 1,200 have tested positive. Jennie-O has encouraged its employees to get tested, now that testing is more available. As more people are tested, the number of confirmed cases is expected to increase.
“The health, well-being and safety of our team members is our top priority. Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to take a pause in operations,” said Steve Lykken, president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, in the release. “We are being thoughtful and considerate in our approach to this process.”
All Jennie-O employees impacted by the company’s voluntary closure will receive 100 percent of their base pay and benefits during the pause in production.
“I want to recognize our production professionals for continuing to do an outstanding job as they work to keep food on tables during this unprecedented time. I am very proud of them and I look forward to being back together as soon as we are able,” Lykken said.
The company’s normal food processing sanitation practices, along with the enhanced procedures it has been using during the pandemic, will continue, including at other facilities.
“The facilities will be deep cleaned, including all common areas and high-touch surfaces,” Lykken added. “Lastly, we have implemented wellness screenings, provided masks and additional personal protective equipment and enhanced safety and sanitation protocols throughout our facilities. We are working closely with external partners as we also develop our plan for reopening when the time is appropriate. As a longstanding and respected Minnesota company, our goal is to always do the right thing.”
Requests for additional comments from Lykken were not returned.
Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Director Jennie Lippert said in the release that the county will be available to help Jennie-O and its employees during the business pause.
“The proactive measures which Jennie-O Turkey Store is taking will help mitigate the transmission rate within our county,” said Lippert.
Food production will continue at other Jennie-O facilities, and the release said the company has strategic operation protocols and plans in place to ensure business continuity.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is comprised of 12 lay farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants across Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to an online company profile, and employs more than 7,000 in total. Two processing plants are located in Willmar. Others are in Faribault, Melrose, Montevideo and Pelican Rapids in Minnesota and one in Barron, Wisconsin.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn.