Smithfield Foods closing Sioux Falls plant indefinitely amid COVID-19 outbreak
A major meat processing plant in Sioux Falls is temporarily closing as it continues to struggle with a COVID-19 outbreak.
Smithfield Foods, Inc. announced Sunday it will close its Sioux Falls facility until further notice.
The closure comes after state health officials confirmed over 200 COVID-19 cases are related to the plant, most of which involved Smithfield employees.
Both Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken
that the plant close for two weeks to give the company and health officials time to get the outbreak under control.
In a press release, Smithfield president & CEO Kenneth Sullivan said the closure of the facility, combined with other the shuttering of other similar plants across the country, is pushing the United States "perilously close" to the edge in terms of meat supply.
"It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers. These farmers have nowhere to send their animals,” Sullivan said. "We have continued to run our facilities for one reason: to sustain our nation’s food supply during this pandemic. We believe it is our obligation to help feed the country, now more than ever. We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19."
According to the company, some activities will occur at the plant on Tuesday to prepare for the shutdown. This includes processing current inventory which includes millions of servings of protein. Smithfield will resume operations in Sioux Falls once further direction is received from local, state and federal officials.
Company officials say the company will continue to compensate its employees for the next two weeks and hopes to "keep them from joining the ranks of the tens of millions of unemployed Americans across the country."
The plant employs around 3,700 people and is one of the city's largest employers. The company says it is one of the largest pork processing facilities in the U.S., representing four to five percent of U.S. pork production. It supplies nearly 130 million servings of food per week or about 18 million servings per day.
Some have voiced concerns that COVID-19 may be spread through food packaging. The company says there is no evidence the disease can be spread this way, citing the Food & Drug Administration.