Editor's Plate: Why There's No Second Wave of Coronavirus in Meat Plants

Meat and poultry companies learned from the first wave, deserve credit for fighting the pandemic.


By Dave Fusaro, Food Processing

Nov 17, 2020


I hope I'm not jinxing anybody, but as this second wave of COVID-19 engulfs the nation, and world, one place the disease isn't flourishing is in America's meat and poultry plants.


Meat plants got plenty of bad publicity when the first wave of this pandemic hit. We reported the infections and plant closings for Tyson, JBS, Smithfield and others. And the deaths: 245 as of Nov. 2, according to Food & Environment Reporting Network.


But as this second wave builds steam, and even affects the President, meat and poultry company names are absent from the news. A lot has changed since this pandemic started, with much of the current wave being blamed on students returning to school, the reopening of businesses that draw crowds and the population's general fatigue about this pandemic.


A lot has changed at meat and poultry companies, too, and the hard-learned lessons of the first wave appear to be paying off (fingers crossed).


A spokesman for Cargill told us: "It is too early to say whether or not this wave will have similar impacts as the first or not, but we have learned important lessons from the first wave and continue to learn how to help slow the spread of the virus -- including discussions with local health officials and our employees on reducing community spread, enhancing safety protocols already in place and even undertaking construction at some of our facilities to better allow for social distancing."


I talked to a number of the meat and poultry companies in October, and one point they all made was that first-wave infections in their plants were at worst reflective of the infection rate in the surrounding communities; some claim the in-plant rates were lower.


"We have had some [recent] cases of COVID-19 in our facilities and, with each confirmed case, we immediately enact our pandemic response protocols, work with the local health department and follow strict guidance from the CDC," said a spokesperson for Perdue. Speaking to this second wave, she added, "It is important to note, the positive case rates in all of our facilities have consistently been either at or, in most cases, significantly below the rates of the surrounding area, which means our efforts to protect our associates have been effective."


"Without question, we've been seeing extremely low cases among our employees -- over a sustained period of time, a fraction of 1%," said a spokesperson for Smithfield Foods. He called from his car as he drove between plant locations. "In the past 10 days, I've been in three plants, and I can tell you why: The protective measures in place are incredible."


Smithfield got pretty beaten up by the media in that first wave. Now on their website are a number of bullet points: