Jennie-O plant open: Patients released; cause of Friday’s medical incident remains unknown
WILLMAR -- The cause of the medical situation Friday evening when dozens of employees became ill at the Jennie-O Turkey Store processing plant in Willmar remains unknown and the plant reopened later Friday night after being evaluated by fire offi...
WILLMAR - The cause of the medical situation Friday evening when dozens of employees became ill at the Jennie-O Turkey Store processing plant in Willmar remains unknown and the plant reopened later Friday night after being evaluated by fire officials and safety personnel.
The incident at processing plant No. 4, located at 1535 30th St. S.W., was originally reported as a chemical leak, Willmar Police Sgt. Michael Jahnke said.
Willmar Fire Chief Gary Hendrickson said Willmar Fire Department’s Hazardous Emergency Assistance Team evaluated the facility and tested for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia and found nothing unusual. Hendrickson said he made a joint decision with the safety director of the Jennie-O processing plant to reopen the facility later Friday night.
“If there are not chemicals present, there is no reason we can’t open up again,” Hendrickson said in an interview Sunday.
The company has “completed a thorough plant inspection with local fire officials and internal safety personnel and found no cause for the event,” Pat Solheid, Jennie-O Turkey Store vice president of human resources and administration, said in a statement released early Saturday morning.
Brad Hanson, operations manager of Willmar Ambulance, said his team originally responded to a medical call and later requested more assistance.
“We started realizing more people were getting sick, so we called the fire department’s hazardous materials team,” said Hanson.
Officials at Rice Memorial Hospital said seven ambulances and a bus were dispatched to the scene.
A total of 30 Jennie-O employees experienced symptoms like vomiting and coughing Friday night. Six were treated at the scene and released, Jahnke said.
The 24 other patients were transported to Rice Memorial Hospital, where they were treated in the Emergency Department and 23 were released after the medical team consulted with Poison Control and the Minnesota Department of Health.
One patient was admitted Friday night and listed in stable condition at that time. That patient was released Saturday afternoon, officials at Rice Memorial Hospital said.
Jennie-O has two processing plants located in Willmar and others in Faribault, Montevideo, Pelican Rapids and Barron, Wis.
Earlier this week a Jennie-O Turkey Store executive was part of a panel discussion on workplace wellness programs. Employee benefits manager Lori Tjaden said there that the company has 7,000 employees across its seven production plants, farms and other locations.
Jennie-O Foods began in 1940 with owner Earl Olson raising turkeys, according to the company website. The company opened its first processing plant in 1949 in Willmar. Based in Willmar, Jennie-O produces more than 1,500 products distributed in 27 countries.
The company was purchased by Hormel Foods Corporation in 1986. Jennie-O purchased The Turkey Store Company of Barron, Wis., in 2001, and the company became Jennie-O Turkey Store.