As meatpacking plants across the United States continue to be epicenters for local coronavirus outbreaks, Hormel Foods (HRL -1.26%) claims it may have found a fairly successfully formula for fighting the virus' spread in its facilities. The initiative, dubbed "Keep COVID Out," is said to have limited infections at the company's Austin, Minnesota, plant to 50 people out of a workforce of approximately 1,800 thus far -- around 2.7%.
The figure represents a massive difference compared to other meatpackers' experiences. In one recent example, the coronavirus infected 22%, or 555, of the workers at Tyson Foods' (TSN -1.22%) Storm Lake, Iowa, plant. Crowded working conditions at meatpacking facilities, combined with low temperatures that ease the virus' spread and survival, are likely major factors in such outbreaks.
Hormel spokesman Rick Williamson said the company is "making sure we're doing everything we can to have our employees be very top of the mind in terms of everything they are doing outside the plant to keep out plant as safe as possible." Hormel scans the temperatures of workers not only on arrival, but also on departure, their method of doubling the chances of catching infections early and preventing community spread.
Other measures include workers clocking in through a staggered sequence over four hours, greatly reducing contact on sign-in. All high-touch surfaces are heavily disinfected between shifts. All employees currently wear face masks.
The safety measures were in place as early as April. At that time, Austin plant manager Clint Walters described how work areas are "partitioned off with what we call our Plexiglas or plastic dividers between areas where specifically they can't create social distance on the line. Now you have multi-layers of protection when you come into work each and every day."