Turkey processing plant under OSHA inspection after rash of sick employees

Processing facilities need to ensure they have the correct shell and tube heat exchangers to deliver the highest quality food products.

A turkey processing facility located in Willmar, Minnesota, recently had some of its employees sent to a local hospital after a mysterious illness caused about 30 different workers to suffer from symptoms
like heavy coughing and vomiting, Processing Magazine reported.

The illness was discovered on Oct. 18, and at least seven ambulances and a bus were sent to the processing facility to hospitalize the sick employees, the source reported. The majority of the processing plant workers were quickly treated and sent home later in the day. However, one worker had to be admitted after showing severe signs of illness.

The quick outbreak caused several employees inside the plant to suffer from breathing difficulties, CBS affiliate WCCO reported. The first two employees were taken outside after reporting trouble breathing.

“The complaint was someone was having difficulty breathing and coughing,” said Brad Hanson, a local paramedic on the scene, according to the source.

None of the patients reported a fever as the numerous firefighters, medical workers and hazardous material crews inspected the processing facility.

“We were trying to deal with a very large crowd,” said Hanson, according to the source. “There were people all sick and throwing up, and we were trying to put triage tags on them.”

Appropriate heating equipment essential in food processing

Typically, one of the biggest causes of illness outbreaks is equipment failure. More times than not, bacteria build-up can occur in food or on equipment if it does not reach the appropriate temperatures. Processing facilities need to ensure they have the correct shell and tube heat exchangers to deliver the highest quality food products.

Utility equipment, like heat exchangers used in ammonia cooling systems, heat recovery operations and cleaning systems also need to be built to applicable codes like ASME and TEMA, to ensure leak-free operations for safety and efficiency reasons.

For the Minnesota food processing plant, there were no signs of major equipment failures that could have leaked gas, carbon monoxide or ammonia, Hanson stated, according to WCCO.

“Nothing of the normal things you would have at a processing plant that would make anybody sick,” Hanson added.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was sent to inspect the turkey processing facility to ensure federal safety guidelines were being followed, ABC affiliate KSTP reported. The building was previously inspected in February 2013, and no violations were discovered.

The company, owned by Hormel Foods, released a statement after the incident occurred, the Star Tribune reported.

“The health and well-being of our employees is our top concern during this time,” the statement said. “Our employees are being evaluated by local health care professionals this evening.”