Meat processing plants across the country have been labeled “critical” businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have one such plant in the Chattahoochee Valley — AlaTrade Inc., in Phenix City. It was one of three plants that are part of a privately owned company.
WRBL News 3’s cameras got an exclusive look inside the poultry facility Monday afternoon.
There has always been an emphasis on the safety of the product — about 4 million pounds of processed, deboned chicken per week. Now, because of the way COVID-19 is spread, the focus is on the employees, Plant Manager Dave Robinson tells News 3.
“Normally, for most when you come here in a food facility — and now even more so — it’s probably going to be the cleanest place you are going to be all day,” Robinson said. “Because we sanitize so much. It’s the things you do when you leave work. We keep reminding people, be careful, watch what you do when you leave. Clean your hands, wear your mask. Protect yourself so you can come back to work.”
The Phenix City plant employs about 640 people, down from the 700 that were employed before the outbreak started a couple of months ago,
That’s not the only change.
— Employees have their temperature taken when they enter the plant.
— If an employee is ill or has a fever, they are sent home. If someone calls in sick with symptoms, they are sent for a COVID-19 test.
— Everyone inside the plant wears a mask.
— The break room is different from before. There are plastic dividers at every seat. The vending machines, tables and chairs are wiped down multiple times during the day.
— Doors inside the facility are wiped down each hour.
“We take a lot of steps we didn’t used to take,” Robinson said. “We used to let you come to work if you didn’t feel good, try to make and work through it,. Now, anybody who doesn’t feel well is asked to leave until get test result, negative or positive. … It’s the No. 1 priority every day, COVID-19 for us.”
There are currently four active COVID-19 cases inside the plant. Some workers who tested positive early on, have recovered and are back on the job.
Poultry plant managers are not a large group, so they often communicate with each other.
“We pull from each other’s experiences if there are things that are working,” Robinson said. And in some cases, the areas that have been hit hard, there is a lot going on in the community. Here, fortunately, we are not as hard hit in this area as some of the other places.”
AlaTrade is currently hiring as it tries to get its workforce back up to 700 employees. The jobs pay between $10 and $14.50 an hour; and the plant is running two shifts. There is also an overnight cleaning shift.
If you are interested in employment at the p;lant, call 334-664-2300.