AUSTIN, Minn. – Jennie-O Turkey Store is making progress toward recovery from an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The company said there have been no confirmed cases of HPAI in flocks owned or processed by the company, or those raised by contract or independent growers. The company has begun repopulating turkey barns that were affected by the outbreak. In a news release, the company said the recovery process will take time, but “we are pleased to be getting back on track in our live production system.”

Another good sign, some employees are returning to work on a modified second shift while others are working on the company’s farms. The company said fewer than 135 individuals are still on layoff, but that number should decline in the coming weeks. Jennie-O Turkey Store did not set a date to have all employees return.

“Our processing schedules have allowed us to bring some of our valued employees back to work,” Randy Vergin, plant manager, said in a news release. “While the increase in staffing will be gradual, we still consider this layoff a temporary situation and our intent is to return our entire team back to work as soon as we can.”

Jennie-O Turkey Store parent Hormel Foods Corp., said sales lost due to avian influenza challenged the company in the third quarter. Hormel reported net earnings of $146.938 million compared to $137.975 million a year ago. However, net sales slipped 4 percent to $2.188 billion compared to $2.284 billion in the year-ago quarter.

“Our balanced business model prevailed once again this quarter, as we were able to overcome the significant challenge of avian influenza in our Jennie-O Turkey Store segment to deliver record earnings and volume sales,” said Jeffrey Ettinger, chairman of the board, president and CEO.

Since the outbreak, Jennie-O Turkey Store has collaborated with government agencies and the Univ. of Minnesota “to understand factors leading to HPAI infection and how the virus was introduced into our flocks.” Minnesota was one of the states hit hardest by the H5N2 outbreak. Since March 4, 8.9 million turkeys were affected by the outbreak.