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Empire Kosher closed for 2 weeks

Employees tested positive for virus

MIFFLINTOWN — Empire Kosher in Mifflintown is planning to close its facility for at least two weeks and has already shut down most of its production plant due to multiple employees testing positive for COVID-19. This is according to a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 Keystone State (UFCW), the union representing Empire employees.

Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State, said Wednesday that Empire reached the decision in conjunction with the union out of an “abundance of caution” for employee safety.

“The company implemented policies and protocols early on in the process,” Young said. “Empire is doing this out of extreme caution and to thoroughly clean the place.

“It’s not that the place was dirty,” Young continued. “Because of the standards required to maintain the kosher process… it’s likely to be about the cleanest poultry plant you’ll find on the planet, other than a similar facility.”

Young also wanted to make clear the union is supportive of the decisions made by Empire so far regarding COVID-19.

“There are employers that aren’t taking this seriously,” he said. “I believe the steps Empire took early were designed to keep people apart as best you can in that environment.”

Young explained that, due to the nature of how a poultry plant operates, it’s very difficult to have all employees adhering to the social distancing guidelines and remaining at least six feet apart.

“Compared to a lot of other companies, Empire was very aggressive at using sanitary standards and using protocols to keep people apart,” Young said. “Now, these places are very busy with a lot of people under one roof. It’s difficult to do everything that health care folks want us to do, but it’s no different than if you go to the supermarket. It’s almost impossible to never get within six feet of anyone else. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Young said Empire plans to phase out some processes, like shipping of already processed product by the end of the week, but once completely closed, the company aims to be aggressive in ensuring its employees’ safety.

“They’re going to do a super-extra sanitation process on whole plant top-to-bottom,” he said.

Young said, for privacy reasons, he could not disclose any information about the employees who tested positive.

As for the plant’s workforce, Young said employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits during the closure, but pointed out the plant was already scheduled to temporarily cease operations during the middle of next week to coincide with the start of Passover at sundown on April 8. Passover ends at sundown on April 16.

Based in Mifflintown, Empire Kosher is the largest producer of kosher poultry in the U.S. and Juniata County’s largest employer, with approximately 750 employees.

A phone message from the Sentinel was left for the human resources department at Empire Kosher, but was not returned as of press time Wednesday.

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