Foster Farms announced it will comply with a Merced County Department of Public Health order and temporarily close one of its processing plants in Livingston, Calif. The facility has been the center of a Coronavirus outbreak since late June that has led to the deaths of eight employees. The remainder of the Livingston facility that has not been affected by the outbreak will be allowed to remain in operation.

In a statement, Foster Farms said, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an unprecedented challenge to our nation, and its workforce. This has been felt strongly in the meat and poultry industry, and geographically in California’s Central Valley, the heart of agriculture for the Western United States. In recent months, Foster Farms’ Livingston Poultry Complex located in Merced County experienced 392 positive cases, and 8 employee deaths related to complications associated with COVID-19. The illness and deaths occurred despite Foster Farms having promptly implemented a comprehensive set of employee protective measures that strictly adhere to CDC guidance. We are gratified that 239 of our coworkers have been cleared to return to work and grieve with the families and loved ones of those who died.”

Merced County DPH announced on August 29 that it was requiring the closure of the Livingston facility on September 1, lasting until September 7. “The closure will allow for deep cleaning and employee testing. If proper deep cleaning and employee testing cannot be achieved by then, the closure could be extended,” it said in a statement.

Foster Farms said that during the closure, the company will complete two rounds of deep cleaning and two rounds of COVID-19 testing covering all 1,400 plant employees. The testing program will ensure that all workers first reentering the plant on September 7 will be free of COVID-19.

“This Health Order is a significant step toward our ultimate goal of stemming the spread of COVID-19 in our community and saving lives,” said Dr. Salvador Sandoval, Merced County’s Public Health Officer. “We take these types of situations very seriously. We’re grateful that Foster Farms was willing to come to the table and reach an agreement that will protect its employees while providing a blueprint for the company to continue its critical food production operations.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Merced County DPH has been trying to get the company to expand its testing protocols this summer. The original decision was made to shut down the plant last week, but the order was delayed for 48 hours after the County received a call from the USDA asking for a delay.

Source: Foster Farms, Merced County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles Times