TAR HEEL —The Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel has experienced enough problems over the past 18 months to concern a number of employees, and one was vocal about it this week.
Smithfield employee Brenda Smith, who said she has worked at the plant for 16 years, expressed her concern and was upset by the latest incident this week, when the plant was shut down because of a structural problem. Smith said employees were sent out of the plant shortly after the first break at 9:45 a.m. due to an issue with the roof.
“They made us clean the meat off the line (before employees could leave),” said Smith.
According to plant officials, the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel was fully evacuated at about 10 a.m. Monday due to an issue with the ceiling. The plant did not resume operations until Wednesday when it partly reopened, and plant officials expected to be operating normally on Thursday.
“Smithfield Foods is working to fix a problem with the roof at the company’s Tar Heel facility,” said Kathleen Kirkham, a spokesperson for Smithfield Foods, on Monday. “Our main concern is for the safety of our employees, and all employees have been sent home. The company plans to mitigate the impact of production losses by adding shifts at other plants.”
Kirkham added there was no ammonia leak and there were no injuries reported due to the incident. When asked about any product losses due to the incident, she said she was unaware of any.
Kirkham told The Fayetteville Observer on Tuesday that employees were sent home as a precautionary measure.
According to reports, the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office and N.C. Highway Patrol assisted in evacuating the plant.
The plant also experienced a closing early last week when an ammonia leak forced the evacuation of the first-shift employees. During that incident, the plant was evacuated at about 1:20 a.m. Company officials said the leak was handled and operations resumed later in the day.
The plant also had an ammonia leak in June 2014 when a water tank collapsed and caused a rush of water that caused compressors and other equipment to be knocked around. That leak forced the evacuation of about 2,000 employees and kept the plant closed for a portion of the week.
The Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel is touted as the largest meat-packing and hog slaughtering operation in the world, according to Wikipedia. The company employs about 4,833 at its Tar Heel location, according to the Smithfield Foods website, and the plant has the capacity to process more than 32,000 hogs per day.
Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.