Premium Iowa Pork break tent

Premium Iowa Pork in Hospers has taken extra health and food safety precautions since the coronavirus pandemic began, such as ramping up its sanitizing procedures and taking the temperatures of its employees. It also erected a tent on its campus where employees can take their breaks.

REGIONAL—N’West Iowa meat-processing facilities began implementing increased health and food safety measures well before outbreaks of the coronavirus were reported at plants in Sioux Falls, SD, and Columbus Junction earlier this month.

Smithfield Foods’ pork plant in Sioux Falls coronavirus outbreak has been identified as the nation’s biggest single source of cases, with more than 500 employees testing positive for the coronavirus.

Additionally, more than 100 nonemployees who had come into contact with Smithfield workers have tested positive. The plant has halted production until further notice.

Meanwhile, more than 160 cases have been reported among employees at the Tyson Foods’ Columbus Junction plant in Louisa County in southeast Iowa, and at least two have died from it. The plant has been closed since April 6.

Premium Iowa Pork in Hospers already had attained the highest level of Safe Quality Food certification before the coronavirus pandemic started, according to Lance Haugstad, director of human resources.

The pork-processing facility, which employs about 415 workers and slaughters about 3,100 head a day, has gone even further to keep its employees and products safe during the viral outbreak by implementing additional measures.

The facility already was being sanitized every night and then inspected the following morning by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and internal staff before the pandemic.

“Post COVID-19, additional measures have been instituted, obviously: Increased sanitation of welfare areas, staircases and doors have been implemented a little bit more beyond what we had done previously,” Haugstad said.

“We erected a large tent on the property here, which allows people to — hopefully in nicer weather — come out and take their breaks out there so that they’re not in our normal welfare break areas.”

Additionally, Haugstad said employees’ temperatures are taken before they enter the facility.

“We’ve been very clear with the employees to call in if they’re not feeling well,” he said.

The company also has instituted a reusable face mask program, which provides masks to workers to wear on site.

On Monday, April 6, Premium Iowa Pork began giving employees bottles of hand sanitizer, which they can take home with them to practice good hygiene when not at work.

“We plan to hand one out at least every Monday to everyone on their way out for the month of April,” Haugstad said.

Perdue Premium Meat Co. in Sioux Center, which employs 240 workers and processes 4,500 pigs a day, has likewise ramped up its health and food safety measures in response to the pandemic.

“We started our efforts in early March,” said Gary Malenke, senior vice president of pork operations. “We continue to evolve and make improvements.”

Deep cleaning takes place at the facility every weekend, including areas such as bathrooms, locker rooms and the cafeteria. Cafeteria surfaces such as the microwave and countertops also are cleaned three times daily after each break.

Daily cleaning in office spaces also has become more frequent, and hand sanitizer has been placed at each entrance to the facility.

Employees’ temperatures are taken every day as well as those of anyone else who needs to enter the facility. The company provides masks for everyone at the facility and wellness monitoring by the in-house nurse.

Perdue also has implemented social distancing measures, such as installing partitions in workspaces between employees or having workers wear face shields in places where partitions cannot be installed.

Workers spread out in the cafeteria during lunch and breaks, and their break schedules are staggered so fewer people are there at one time.

Neither N’West Iowa meat-processing facility reported a decrease in attendance from workers and production has been able to continue at each plant.

“We’ve got a great work group,” Haugstad said. “Rain or snow, sun or not, everybody makes it in and takes pride in what they’re doing.”