Smithfield Idles Illinois Pork Plants Over Virus

Smithfield plant
This April 8, 2020, file photo, shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. The plant was closed after hundreds of workers contracted the coronavirus. Stephen Groves / Associated Press
Smithfield plant
This April 8, 2020, file photo, shows the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. The plant was closed after hundreds of workers contracted the coronavirus. Stephen Groves / Associated Press

Smithfield Idles Illinois Pork Plants Over Virus

Meat-processing giant Smithfield Foods is closing two of its facilities in Illinois, its latest moves to shut down meatpacking plants due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kane County Health Department said Saturday that it ordered Smithfield to temporarily close its plant in west suburban St. Charles, where 325 people make pork products. The department said it took the action after hearing worker complaints that the plant wasn’t following social distancing and cleaning guidelines.

Smithfield said it suspended operations at the plant voluntarily and is cooperating with health officials. But a local lawmaker, state Rep. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, disputed that.

“It wasn’t until Smithfield was refusing to communicate with the local county health department that they were mandated to close their doors,” she said Saturday.

A statement from the health department said it will work with Smithfield on “mitigation efforts” and provide education on social distancing and personal protective equipment. The statement did not say whether there have been any coronavirus cases among workers at the plant.

The closing in St. Charles comes after Smithfield announced Friday that it will shutter operations at its Monmouth, Illinois, plant beginning Monday until further notice.

A “small portion” of the plant’s 1,700 employees tested positive for COVID-19, Virginia-based Smithfield announced. The Monmouth plant represents about 3% of U.S. fresh pork supplies and also produces bacon. Employees will be paid during the closure, the company said.

Smithfield also has closed meatpacking plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin; Martin City, Missouri; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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.

Smithfield said it will continue to provide its workers with personal protective equipment such as masks. Smithfield also has implemented thermal scanning companywide and installed plexiglass and other physical barriers on production floors and in break rooms, it said.

The Associated Press contributed.