Livingston, Calif. — 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.
At the Livingston poultry plant, which is the largest component of the complex, symptomatic cases are in decline following a July peak. Recent results from Foster Farms’ testing of 2,500 employees at the Livingston poultry plant indicate a COVID-19 prevalence level of less than 1%. While we are very encouraged by these results, we recognize that they do not fully rule out the possibility of community spread within the facility, which remains classified by the Merced County Health Department as an outbreak. We can never allow for any measure of complacency, which potentially affects the health and welfare of our employees.
Foster Farms very much appreciates the concern of the Merced Public Health department, and their significant efforts to mitigate COVID-19 prevalence. We agree that the best approach to ensuring the future safety of our Livingston plant workers is to begin anew with a clean slate. Foster Farms will close the main Livingston processing plant on Tuesday evening, September 1 and not resume operations until Monday evening, September 7. During this downtime, 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. Concurrently, Foster Farms will have completed two rounds of testing for all other major processing and logistical facilities that comprise the Livingston Poultry Complex. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in making available test kits and other material support which will enable Foster Farms to complete testing with the least impact on the food supply. During the period of downtime, cleaning and testing, the Merced Public Health Department will be welcome to observe activities to ensure their proper administration.
We further agree with the Merced Public Health Department that opportunities exist to enhance social distancing, add to professional healthcare staffing that will oversee COVID-19 programs, and improve COVID-19 related employee communication. Most importantly, we are committed to the ongoing exchange of data, and open lines of communication with the Merced Public Health Department, which is at the core of tracking and resolving COVID-19 cases before they reach outbreak status.
COVID-19 is not the product of a company any more than it is the fault of a people, or a community. It is a scourge that companies like Foster Farms and communities like Merced County can work together to defeat. Foster Farms joins our nation in looking forward to a time when we are rid of COVID-19. We look forward to building an ongoing relationship with the Merced Public Health Department to help ensure the health and betterment of the greater community where we live and work.