DemKota announces safety protocols after Sioux Falls plant outbreak, closure

Kelda J.L. Pharris
kpharris@aberdeennews.com

In the light of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the Smithfield Food Plant in Sioux Falls and its subsequent, indefinite closure, DemKota Ranch Beef in Aberdeen has announced measures the company is taking to ensure the staff and facility are protected against a similar situation.

“Like most of you I’ve kept a close eye on the Smithfield outbreak in Sioux Falls and want to be sure that something like that doesn’t happen here,” said Aberdeen Mayor Travis Schaunaman in a video he posted to Facebook. He spoke Friday while standing outside the DemKota plant south of town.

“I’ve worked with Adam (Bode) in the operations management department at the beef plant to ensure they’ve done everything possible to prevent the flow of the virus into their plant and the spread if it arrives,” Schaunaman said

Bode reiterated earlier statements the plant had made about following World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, stating that was a minimum baseline that plant is using in his response to an email from the American News.

“We’ve been working with industry professionals as well as other local business such as 3M to compare notes and ensure best practices are shared and implemented,” Bode also said.

“We’ve been working closely with our Mayor as well to inform the community and align with community wide initiatives as we focus to meet the nations food supply demand.”

Bode added that the beef plant has stopped recruiting and hiring efforts from external areas. They will still be hiring locally, people who meet a screening criteria.

“We have a contagion protocol that we’ve successfully implemented during influenza season that is directly applicable for COVID-19 as well. Local health officials have reviewed that protocol and its success rate during influenza outbreaks in the community,” Bode said without giving specifics.

Along with Schaunaman’s video he released a list of the following measures DemKota is, or will be taking to prevent spread and ensure employee safety:

• Provide daily updates on the environment, community, changes in procedures, new training etc.

• The entire facility is deep cleaned on a nightly basis with industrial cleaning solvents and sanitizers.

• Offices and welfare areas like break rooms, locker rooms and restrooms are cleaned and sanitized thoroughly each night; areas are sanitized with a hospital grade atomized sanitizer.

• Shift start times are staggered to spread out the flow of employees coming in.

• Staggered break schedules allowing for more social distancing and lesser flow of people.

• Increased air exchanges in the facility, which was recommended from a Japanese study.

• Full face masks to the majority of staff, and surgical masks for those positions that can’t wear the full face mask based on safety priorities. All employees wear personal protective equipment as part of their job, such as scrubs, butcher frocks, gloves, aprons, etc.

• Employees are continuously trained in food safety practices and personal hygiene, which is a core practice at the plant.

• Early screening protocol that quarantines any symptomatic employee.

• A protocol for when a virus-positive employee surfaces, triggering additional quarantine and cleaning measures.

• Additional measures are in motion that will continue to support preventative actions, including a thermal imaging camera for body temperature.

• Policies in place for employees so they don’t travel to “hot zones” during their time off, etc. For example having them stay out of Minnesota and Sioux Falls.

• No visitors are allowed and only allow essential contractors, who are isolated, can be allowed in.

DemKota Ranch Beef, south of Aberdeen, is ramping up its policies and protocols to prevent any spread of COVID-19 to its facility and workers. Another processing plant, Smithfield Farms in Sioux Falls, had an outbreak of the virus and has been shutdown indefinitely. American News file photo