BRAWLEY — One World Beef Packers (OWB Packers) located in Brawley has taken maximum steps in their safety protocols to keep their workers and consumers safe from COVID-19 during the processing of beef in their state-of-the-art facility.
More than a dozen employees have tested positive for the virus. According to plant facility General Manager Manny Medellin, measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the workers and the food supply while following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulatory bodies of the State.
Employees that feel they are sick, or exhibit symptoms were asked to stay home. OWB Packers has contracted an outside clinic to test any employee wishing to be tested. Employees confirmed positive for the virus are provided financial support through the company’s COVID-19 Benefit Plan.
“The director of the Imperial County Department of Health personally toured our facility to observe our sanitation and sterilization protocols,” said Medellin. “As the COVID-19 measures evolve, we continue to incorporate new protocols to keep our workers safe. Our primary concern is the health and safety of our employees and to continue to produce a safe meat supply for the world.”
OWB Packers initiated a COVID-19 Response and Action Plan to protect employees and continue to produce meat for the country. In addition, USDA inspectors work full time in the facility with their own protocols.
Eric Brandt, president and CEO of OWB Packers gave the Desert Review a virtual tour of the facility and explained safety measures taken for workers and safe food production from first entering the facility, throughout the whole plant.
“We began our safety measures for the COVID-19 virus back in early March,” said Brandt. “When employees reach the entrance to the plant, which is located a few hundred yards outside of the plant, the pre-entrance protocols begin. Temperatures are taken, hand sanitation is administered, gloves and facial coverings are supplied, and soles of shoes are sanitized.”
Other measures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) include protective glasses and face shields, outer garment protective clothing, and rubber boots. Sanitizing is a constant in every phase of the plant operations.
According to Brandt, when the shutdown of the County and the nation was enacted, some workers were scared to show up. Brandt and others in upper management jumped into the processing line and helped to process orders. Workers are cross-trained in several different jobs and all are offered advancement within the company.
The facility is completely sanitized every night. The cafeteria, locker rooms, restrooms, offices, and shared equipment are sanitized multiple times every day. These areas are fogged and sanitized after shifts by EFR Environmental Services, Brandt said. Social distancing has been implemented throughout the facility. Lunch and break tables have screens separating employees. The plant utilizes social distancing and screens in place where available to protect the employees.
As Brandt passed workers, they waved, gave shout outs, or gave thumbs up. In a facility of nearly 700 employees, Brandt said he knows almost everyone by name, except for those recently hired. He spoke of the OWB Packers as a family and a team. He spoke of respect for the workers, the animals, the jobs, the company, and the employees’ families. A sign throughout the facility says, "RESPECT - Respect for each other and the animals we harvest." About 80 percent of the employees live in Imperial County.
“I pride myself in knowing our employees’ names,” said Brandt. “We process America’s finest beef. Anyone involved in the food supply chain are designated as an essential business by the federal government. We have the responsibility to produce food for our nation and we are all dedicated to doing just that. We will continue to supply our country with the most nutritious protein in the world.”
Beef processed in the OWB Packers facility is shipped all over the world. Brandt likens the beef plant to a winery, where processing is tailored to the needs or desires of the client. He calls it craft beef. In the Valley, Costco, Ramey’s Meats, and restaurants, among other locations, have meat from OWB Packers, to world-renowned restaurants in major cities. All of the cattle processed here are raised in the Imperial Valley.
A number of workers were interviewed, and they all said they felt safe working at OWB Packers with all of the safety protocols. Many of the workers have families they want to protect from the virus. They all spoke of being grateful to work at OWB Packers and how the company values their participation in feeding the Country.
“I’m so proud of our team and how everyone has handled this crisis,” said Brandt. “From the team members that have worked tirelessly through the day to the team members that are home in isolation or recovering from the virus. We are overwhelmed at the dedication to produce food for the nation. It has been a choice for everyone here to produce food under extremely strict guidelines or stay at home in isolation. The turnout has been inspiring. As I walk the floor every day and talk to team members, they share how thankful they are that we’re operating and pray that we continue to process food. They thank me, but also God for blessing us to keep operating. It’s humbling. I’m grateful and often times left speechless. We have a great team. An amazing team.”
Brandt said the company is deeply committed to ensuring the health and safety of the team members and will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and work with the County health officials and medical professionals to achieve that goal. The president has ordered all beef plants stay open to feed the Country. OWB Packers was not one of the plants that closed previously.
“The frontline physicians, RN’s, and medical staff are the real heroes of this battle against COVID-19,” Brandt concluded. “The other unsung heroes are those in the food supply chain.”