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Local manufacturers taking precautions

By Staff | May 17, 2020

Staff at Kerry Ingredients, located in Blue Earth, says they are committed to the safety of their 175 Blue Earth employees and are diligent every day, to do everything they can to make sure their employees are using safe and healthy measures while at work.

Manufacturing facilities in Blue Earth are taking many extra precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Blue Earth City Council learned at their special meeting last Monday night, May 11.

The council has been meeting every Monday night since the pandemic stay at home orders began. The first and third Mondays are regular meetings, while all the others are special meetings.

Last Monday the council had representatives of both Seneca Foods and Kerry Ingredients explain what they are doing to ensure safety at their plants.

Dave Stauffer, plant manager at Seneca, attended the meeting in person.

“We have electronic bulletin boards throughout the plant with updates from our corporate office,” Stauffer says. “We are following all protocols, including social distancing.”

That includes making extra space in the break room, and creating additional break room areas in the warehouse.

“We are also cleaning and sanitizing everything twice a day,” he explained. “And that is in addition to what all the employees are doing themselves in their work areas.”

Everyone in the plant is wearing face masks, and sneeze guards will be added when the seasonal workers arrive and pack begins, he said.

The plant is locked down and only one entrance is being used and employees are checked each day.

“Seneca has purchased four scanners, non-contact thermometers, and if it is green the person goes in to work, red they go to the nurse,” Stauffer said.

The canteen will be closed to the public, and a 20 x 60 tent has been purchased and will be set up for breaks outside, as there will not be seating inside the canteen.

“We will be using all paper plates and plastic utensils,” he added. “Not environmentally friendly but necessary.”

Other items include finding suitable, safe, housing for the seasonal workers, putting everyone on color-coded split shifts and working to social distance sorters and inspectors on the line, as they are usually shoulder to shoulder.

Currently Seneca has 59 full-time people but they are adding two or three more, two mechanics and an ag person.

“When pea pack starts we will add 160 persons, and for corn pack we will have 230 to 250 workers at the plant,” Stauffer says. “We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.”

One more thing for this year, Stauffer told the council, is that they will not have the sweet corn shack open for local sales.

“We feel that would be too dangerous, so we have decided to shut it down for this season,” he said.

Three persons from Kerry Ingredients attended the meeting via telephone conference. They discussed what Kerry is doing as a global company, as well as what they are doing at the Blue Earth facility specifically.

They said their precautions are very similar to Seneca, with social distancing, changing how employees take breaks, and checking everyone by asking healthcare questions and taking temperatures every day, as well as increasing cleaning and sanitizing measures.

“We keep our employees up-to-date with what our company protocols are, and what resources we have in place and are available in the community,” one of the managers said.

Currently Kerry has 175 employees at the Blue Earth facility.

“We have a commitment to safety,” one manager told the council. “We are diligent every day, every single day, to do everything we can to make sure our employees stay safe and healthy.”

Both mayor Rick Scholtes and councilman Glenn Gaylord, who had asked if the council could be updated, thanked the managers for their reports.

“It sounds like you are all taking this very seriously and are prepared,” Scholtes said. “Thank you for the reports, we appreciate it.”

“Sounds like you guys could be role models for the rest of the businesses in the community,” Gaylord added.

In other business at the special meeting, the council:

Discussed the lack of cleaning and maintenance at the Ag Center with the resignation of the maintenance manager.

City administrator Kim Moore reported she and other staff have gone up there to empty garbage and lock up the place at night.

Mayor Scholtes reported that the closing date for applications for the manager job was Friday, May 15. He said he hoped interviews could be held quickly and have someone hired soon.

Discussed a USDA loan and grant for the purchase of a new fire truck.

The loan was for $305,000, with the grant for $50,000, leaving the city short $200,000 for the total price of the new truck.

Administrator Moore said the plan had been to take the $200,000 out of a reserve that had been built up over several years by the city to purchase the truck. However, mayor Scholtes suggested bonding for the extra cost over five to 10 years and saving the reserve fund.

No action was taken.

Heard an update from Public Works Department supervisor Jamison Holland about the hiring of new staff and seasonal staff for the Public Works Department.