SILER CITY — As people make runs to grocery stores, clearing shelves, fears of a shortage of food prevails.
But in reality, workers in food and agriculture sector — that means agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service — are named as essential critical infrastructure workers, according to guidance issued by the Dept. of Homeland Security on March 19.
In Siler City, Mountaire Farms’ poultry processing plant is continuing to operate, producing 280,000 chickens per day, or 2.2 million pounds per week, according to Mark Reif, Mountaire’s North Carolina community relations manager. The company, Reif notes, “immediately created a Coronavirus Task Force to prepare,” which includes leadership from every department. The group meetings regularly “to coordinate and communicate our response.”
“As a critical part of our nation’s food supply, we must be prepared for situations like this because families across our nation and around the world depend on us for food,” Reif said. “We are proud of how our employees have rallied around this company and our mission. They are working long hours to make sure people have food on the table.”
The Food and Drug Administration notes on its website there are “no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your local grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States and no widespread disruptions have been reported in the supply chain.”
The FDA also notes that all food production facilities are required to follow “current good manufacturing practices” which include use of sanitizing practices and disinfectants. In addition, currently “there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
Under normal circumstances, the Mountaire plant undergoes required cleaning and sanitation every night before starting operations every day. With the spread of COVID-19, the plant is expanding its cleaning practices and has introduced new policies to ensure production can continue, according to Reif. Mountaire has changed its travel policy, banning teams from all international travel and domestic travel through airports for the next 30 days. And they are encouraging the use of technology for meetings to avoid groups having to get together to do business.
For workers on the production line, the company has installed additional sanitation stations and increased the frequency of deep cleanings of common areas at all facilities, especially restrooms and cafeterias.
“We’ve encouraged all our employees to stay home if they’re sick, and we’ve adjusted our attendance policy, so they don’t have to fear losing their jobs if they do so,” Reif said. “We are working with high-risk employees and allowing them to work from home if their job allows.”
Reif also noted that each plant has trained medical staff at its facilities and Health and Wellness Centers on site with doctors who are trained on how to recognize the signs of COVID-19 and actions to take to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We’ve been in communication with the State Health Departments and are following CDC guidelines in everything we do,” Reif said. “We’ve increased how often our employees can purchase chicken at discounted prices, so they don’t have to find empty shelves at the grocery store when they get off work. And we are working with our food vendors in our cafeterias so employees can take food home with them to their families.”
While working to keep food production going, Reif notes that the company is continuing to look for other ways to serve the communities where they operate.
“We know our communities are in need, so we’re also reaching out to help,” Reif said. “We’ve been in touch with community groups, churches, food pantries and more to see where we can donate chicken to those in need.”
Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.
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