ST. PAUL, MINN. – The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) filed a temporary restraining order in county district court against Tony Downs Food Company on March 15, accusing the meat processor of employing minors in hazardous jobs at its plant. 

According to its investigation, DLI said it discovered Tony Downs Food Company employing at least eight children from 14 to 17 years of age at its Madelia, Minn., facility. The agency said it identified additional employees hired to work at the company when they were younger than 18 years of age. One employee stated that he was 13 when hired. 

DLI stated in its investigation that minors were operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts during overnight shifts, which could last until 1 or 2 a.m.

“The minors also work in cold temperatures where meat products are flash frozen using carbon dioxide and ammonia,” DLI wrote in its report. “The company’s injury reports showed children have been injured while working in these hazardous occupations.”

After the investigation was announced, Tony Downs Food Company released a statement to MEAT+POULTRY.

“At this time we are familiarizing ourselves with the details of the Department of Labor’s filing,” the company said. “Our intent is always to comply with the law and, based on what we learn, we will take any actions that are necessary to ensure that we do so. In keeping with our commitment to operating with the highest integrity and transparency, we have cooperated fully with the Minnesota Department of Labor’s investigation.”

DLI said it conducted an overnight on-site investigation of the company on Jan. 26-27. DLI interviewed workers in Spanish, documented working conditions and asked for records from the company. The company also contacted school districts in the area for additional information. 

Following the on-site inspection, the company produced records for DLI throughout February 2023, which included employee photographs, contact information, schedules and employee timecards. 

“We strive to ensure that all who work in our plant meet all required employment criteria, including being of legal age,” the company said. “People who are underage should be in schools, not working in manufacturing facilities. We intend to take decisive action to root out what may have enabled any underage workers to circumvent our hiring process and verification requirements which include providing government-issued photo IDs as evidence that they were 18 or older.”

Tony Downs Food Company added that it has comprehensive systems in place to ensure complete compliance with the Department of Labor and other regulatory agency policies and standards. 

The Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from employing minors in hazardous occupations. It also does not allow minors under 16 years of age to work after 9 p.m., more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week.

The DLI investigation comes after Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) agreed to pay $1.5 million in civil penalties in February after the US Department of Labor found at least 102 workers from 13 to 17 years of age were cleaning meatpacking plants.