The National Frozen Foods plant in Albany is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Capt. Michelle Duncan of the Linn County Sheriff's Office said on Thursday night that the plant has 10 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Eight of those are workers at the facility, and two are associated with those employees.
Oregon Occupational Safety & Health, a division of the Department of Consumer & Business Services, is investigating workplace safety complaints regarding the coronavirus, social distancing and other safety precautions at the plant, said Michael Beranbaum, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local Union No. 670, which represents about 270 workers at National Frozen Foods.
“We are continually fighting to ensure that our members have all the protections they can get,” Beranbaum said.
Larry Hargreaves, National Frozen Foods Albany plant manager, declined comment when contacted by the newspaper on Thursday afternoon.
An April 16 memo from Hargreaves to National Frozen Foods employees obtained by the newspaper discusses two initial confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the facility. “We have verified with the Health Department we should continue our regular work schedule. If you feel you have been exposed and need to self-quarantine, please inform the HR department,” Hargreaves wrote.
The memo details steps the company is taking to limit exposure of COVID-19 to its work force, including increased sanitization in high-traffic areas, providing face shields, keeping employees 6 feet apart as much as possible and making hand sanitizer available. “If we follow the guidelines that are in place, we greatly reduce our risk to exposure,” Hargreaves concluded.
Workers at National Frozen Foods have contacted the newspaper saying that they are concerned with their safety and potential exposure.
Oregon OSHA confirmed that it has received complaints regarding National Frozen Foods and did an inspection at the site on Tuesday. A representative of the agency did not detail the nature of those accusations in a brief interview on Wednesday. Reports regarding the complaints may be available in the coming weeks.
Beranbaum knew of only two cases of COVID-19 at the Albany National Frozen Foods plant on Thursday.
He said that the company is working closely with state and Linn County public health officials regarding safety precautions, adding that workers can take days off without any negative consequences if they have symptoms of the illness or if they feel that they were exposed.
“Everybody is at a heightened level of nervousness and concern. Those who are non-essential workers and are at home are nervous about their finances. Those who are essential workers are working incredible amounts of hours to keep the food chain going, and they are stressed and nervous, not only because of their hours, but for their families, and they’re not at home taking care of them,” Beranbaum said.
He added that an Oregon OSHA investigation does not mean there are problems at the facility. “The company had made some efforts for safety and sanitation, and since the initial positive testing, they’ve upped those things,” Beranbaum said.
The biggest problem is that the state and federal government haven’t done enough to ensure there’s widespread testing for COVID-19, he said. “Unless they meet the very strict criteria, people aren’t even afforded the right to be tested,” Beranbaum added.
The Teamsters Union is trying to get a national standard for coronavirus workplace safety passed in Washington, D.C., Beranbaum said.
National Frozen Foods opened its Albany plant in 1982. The facility, at 745 30th Ave. S.W., sits on about 20 acres off Pacific Boulevard.
The plant puts out millions of pounds of frozen produce each year. During a good day in the summer, the facility can churn out a million pounds of beans alone, according to a 2012 article.
National Frozen Foods' Albany plant processes beans, cut corn, squash, vegetable purees and cream-style corn, according to the company’s website.
Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or email@example.com.
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