Working with Carris Health, the company launched a day-long testing effort Thursday for its nearly 1,000 employees in the Willmar locations.
At the same time, a core group of team members began restarting operations at the Benson Avenue facility. Operations will resume Monday at the Willmar Avenue facility.
The company also confirmed Thursday in a news release that “team members had tested “positive for COVID-19 at West Central Turkeys” in Pelican Rapids. The company did not say whether the Pelican Rapids plant will be temporarily cease production, like the company did at its Melrose and two Willmar plants in April.
Safety remains priority number one through it all, according to company President Steve Lykken in announcing the initiative to reopen the Benson Avenue plant Thursday.
“We remain committed to our industry-leading efforts to maintain and enhance safety protections for our team members and this community,” stated Lykken in the announcement. “We are glad to be reopening this facility and are working on our plans for reopening our other facilities including another location in Willmar and in Melrose.”
Carris Health and Jennie-O Turkey Store conducted a coordinated effort to bring nearly 1,000 employees to a testing site next to the medical clinic and behind the former Washington Learning Center on Thursday in Willmar. Scheduled to go from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. if necessary, its goal was to test all of the individuals for the COVID-19 viral illness.
Carris Health will provide the results of the tests to Jennie-O Turkey Store on Sunday. A Jennie-O Turkey Store team will use the information and develop a roster to schedule employees who are able to safely return to the Willmar Avenue and Benson Avenue plants on Monday, according to Nate Weber, Willmar Avenue plant manager.
Processing operations will be at about one-half the normal level. Weber said production will remain at about half the normal level through the next week. Production will be increased afterward only as it is determined safe to do so, he said.
He emphasized that only employees who test negative will be brought back to work. The large-scale testing process was going smoothly Thursday, he added.
The company temporarily closed the Willmar Avenue and Benson Avenue plants over the weekend of April 26-27 after learning that 14 of its Willmar Avenue plant employees had tested positive for COVID-19. A team of employees and contractors conducted a deep cleaning and sanitation processes in both of the closed facilities.
The Melrose plant closure was announced April 28 after 19 of approximately 750 employees there had tested positive earlier that week.
In announcing plans for the reopening of plants, Lykken said that the company will focus its attention and efforts to an initiative it is calling “Keep Covid Out!”
“This campaign reinforces the preventative measures throughout our facility and the efforts of our team members to keep COVID-19 outside of our building and out of our communities. COVID-19 affects all of us and we must work together to stop its spread, both at the workplace and outside of work,” stated the company president.
“As a leading employer in the area, and one with our core priority on the health and safety of our employees, we are certainly eager to get back to doing what we love and that’s making great food.”
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.