Food processing plants see surge in COVID-19 cases, including more than 100 in Darien

Posted at 10:20 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 23:20:31-04

DARIEN — Food processing plants around the state see a surge in COVID-19 cases among their workers. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now investigating complaints around Wisconsin.

"The bottom line is we have several incidents, several surges of positive virus tests happening and in several food processing plants across the state of Wisconsin," said Governor Tony Evers.

One of those plants includes the Birds Eye food processing plant in Darien. Conagra, its parent company, said more than 100 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The plant is now shut down. United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) represents migrant workers at Birds Eye. The advocacy group spokesperson Rod Ritcherson said more safety measures need to be taken before the plant reopens to stop another outbreak from happening.

"Without healthy workers, our food supply could be in jeopardy, it's that simple," said Ritcherson.

UMOS filed a complaint with OSHA saying, in part, workers who are housed at the facility cannot social distance. They gave us a video that they say was part of their complaint showing bunk beds close together in the barrack style housing.

"There must be ample space, six feet apart between," said Ritcherson.

Conagra Brands, the parent company of Birds Eye, tells us that video is where workers are living who are recovering from COVID-19, not those who do not have the illness. The company said workers without the illness have beds where plexiglass barriers have been installed between the bunks or people are not sleeping directly next to each other.

The Birds Eye plant has been shut down since April 17th. It is not the only food processing plant dealing with outbreaks.

104 COVID-19 cases at Birds Eye

Green Bay:
260 COVID-19 cases at JBS
170 COVID-19 cases at American Food Group

Village of Denmark:
35 COVID-19 cases at Salm Partners

28 COVID-19 cases at Smithfield

TOTAL = 597

That is 9% of the total number if COVID-19 cases in the state. That number is likely higher because not all food plants are saying how many of their workers are testing positive for COVID-19. The governor said the goal now is to get all workers tested for COVID-19 and their families.

The Birds Eye plant is staying closed until next week, May 3rd. Conagra said when they reopen, they will use rigorous sanitation measures to maintain a safe work environment.

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