GUELPH, ONTARIO – Cargill is temporarily idling its beef processing plant in Guelph after 82 employees at the facility tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health announced an outbreak at the facility on Dec. 4, which was followed up with testing. The company agreed to halt production at the plant starting Dec. 17.
“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our Guelph protein harvest facility,” said Jon Nash, Cargill Protein – North America Leader. “This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for local families and access to markets for farmers and ranchers. We care deeply about our employees and their safety. They are everyday heroes on the frontlines of our food system. Our focus now is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations.
“To prevent food waste, we will process the nearly 1.55 million meals-worth of protein currently in our facility. We greatly appreciate our employees who are working to complete this effort.”
Cargill is working in partnership with the union. Employees will be paid the 36 hours per week as outlined in the collective agreement with the union.
As of Dec. 17, 129 people are self-isolating – some are positive for the virus, others have come in close contact with infected individuals. The health department recommends self-isolation as a precaution. Health officials are concerned about community spread of the virus because of the Cargill outbreak.
“All outbreaks are serious,” said Matthew Tenenbaum, MD, associate medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. “However, when we see an outbreak of this size, we must use all of the tools available to us to contain the outbreak and ensure the community at large is protected.
"I wish to express gratitude to the management, staff, and union at Cargill Limited for their full and expedient cooperation in investigating and containing this outbreak. As cases rise in our community, we all face the risk of outbreaks at work or school, as well as in our long-term care facilities. It will take all of us working together to contain this virus and keep our community safe."
The company is working closely with local health officials to ensure appropriate prevention, testing, cleaning and quarantine protocols are followed within the facilities. Safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, face coverings, screening between employee stations, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible, offering staggered breaks and reducing carpooling have been in place for months and will remain in place when the plant resumes full operations.