Smithfield employees worry they've contracted COVID-19 at North Carolina packing plant

TAR HEEL, N.C. (WTVD) -- A week after Smithfield Foods closed its South Dakota pork processing plant--one of the largest in the country, one worker at the company's North Carolina facility said she is concerned for her health and safety on the job.

A representative with the packing plant said out of respect for its employees, they won't confirm any COVID-19 cases at the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel. Employees said safety measures are now in place at the facility, but they worry it might be too late.

"I don't have any symptoms, but whose to say that three days from now I wont? I might start having symptoms," said an employee who wished to not be identified.

She is an employee of the Smithfield Foods packing plant in Tar Heel. ABC11 protected her identity in an effort to prevent retaliation. She is so frightened about contracting the virus that she left work early last week and won't be in this week.

"I have kids. I have a son with asthma. I can't afford to get sick and bring that home to my child. I'm risking his life and my life. It's just not right," said the employee.

THE LATEST: COVID-19 updates in North Carolina

Last week, our Troubleshooter Diane Wilson brought you a story where an employee at the Smithfield plant said management told workers they can earn $500 bonus on their May 15 paycheck if they don't miss or aren't late to any shifts.

Employees are still operating within close quarters despite CDC guidelines. Workers said they stand next to each other on the line floor.

"Meat has to be directly on top of each other going down lines," said the employee. "It's going to take forever if everybody is spaced out. We're still directly next to each other with these little black things on the side of us serving no purpose."

She said temperature screening has been implemented at the start of each shift, plexiglass has been added and masks were distributed.

We reached out to Smithfield Foods, and a representative directed us to its website. On the company's website, it states:
We have instituted a series of stringent and detailed processes and protocols that follow the strict guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to effectively manage any potential COVID-19 cases in our operations. These include mandatory 14-day COVID-19 related quarantines with pay as an uncompromising effort to protect our dedicated employees. We've also relaxed attendance policies to eliminate any punitive effect for missing work due to COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine.

In addition, we are taking the following measures to minimize our team members' risks of catching COVID-19:
  • Added extra hand sanitizing stations
  • Boosted personal protective equipment
  • Continuing to stress importance of personal hygiene
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection
  • Expanded employee health benefits
  • Implementing thermal scanning
  • Increased social distancing in common areas
  • Installed plexiglass barriers
  • Restricting all nonessential visitors


All these actions complement the extensive safety measures in place at all our locations and are on top of the extremely hygienic and sanitary environments maintained at all times in our industry for food safety and quality purposes. We're also ensuring employees know how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 and making certain that they know how COVID-19 spreads. We continue to actively monitor CDC guidance, as well as that of state and local health authorities and are immediately taking all necessary actions to protect our employees.
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