COVID outbreak closes Cargill chicken processing plant

The Cargill chicken processing facility in London abruptly ceased production on April 13 after 82 workers tested positive for COVID-19. 

The number of COVID-19 positives at the Cuddy Boulevard facility marks a steep increase from the nine reported by the Middlesex-London Health Unit the week before. 

“Our focus is on continuing to keep our employees safe and getting our facility back to normal operations,” said Derek Hill, general manager at the Cargill London facility.

Why it matters: The sudden closure impacts Ontario poultry producers, who, with no processing options, could soon be forced to make difficult decisions.

The plant process 100,000 chickens a day into chicken nuggets and the closure could create backlogs forcing the sector to euthanize animals. 

Cargill has made testing available to all 900 employees. They encourage employees who are sick or were exposed to anyone with the virus over the last 14 days, to self-isolate at home. 

The food giant is working closely with the Middlesex-London Health Unit and public health officials to ensure employees are following quarantine protocols at home and cleaning and shutting down the line for a safe reopening.

Each employee is guaranteed 36 hours of pay, and Cargill is making available up to 80 hours of additional paid leave related to COVID-19.

Cargill remains committed to delivering food for families across Canada and ensuring the resiliency of the supply chain, Hill said, but the health and safety of their employees had to take priority. 

“Ultimately, our employee’s safety and wellbeing come first. They are everyday heroes on the frontlines of our food system,” said Hill, adding they are working with local health units to facilitate the vaccination of workers as soon as supplies are available.

“We are prepared to support public health and facilitate our essential employees receiving vaccinations, without jeopardizing the prioritization of essential healthcare workers and others at extreme high risk.”