Riceland Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

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One Riceland Foods Inc. employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and is under quarantine at home, the company confirmed Monday.

The employee works at the company’s Stuttgart Rice Division, which has 400 workers. Riceland said in a news release that it had activated its COVID-19 “action plan” there, sending home eight other workers the company said had close contact with the infected employee.

Those workers will be sent for testing and must stay home for 14 days, spokesman Kevin McGilton told Arkansas Business. The affected work area is being disinfected with a deep cleaning and sanitation process. No rice or oil products were affected.

Riceland President and CEO Danny Kennedy said keeping employees safe and healthy is the company’s priority.

“The team has worked cross functionally to take the necessary steps to keep our employees healthy as this virus continues to sweep across the U.S.,” he said in a news release. “As a food manufacturing company, we know how important it is to keep our employees safe so we can continue to serve our customers and consumers during this time of need.”

Riceland is part of the critical food supply infrastructure, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, and the cooperative said it has a special responsibility to maintain a normal work schedule to produce oil and rice products to feed families across the country.

Employees have been instructed to follow the guidelines set by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and Riceland has identified key staff within the organization that must be protected to ensure normal operations.

Those staff members have been assigned to work in different Riceland locations, locally and around the state, to minimize the risk of multiple infections in key business units. Riceland facilities are only open for Riceland employees until further notice.

Flexible work schedules have been implemented as well, to help employees caring for children who are home from school, and Riceland is working with vendors to ensure critical supplies have been secured.

“We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” Kennedy said. “This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.”

The cooking process required to consume Riceland products eliminates the possibility of virus transfer, the company said, and the extended time for products to move through the distribution network from packaging to placement on grocery store shelves minimizes the chance of virus transfer from packaging material.

Richland employs 1,500 people in Arkansas and Missouri. For its fiscal year that ended July 31, 2018, Riceland had $955.5 million in revenue, making it No. 11 on Arkansas Business’ 2019 list of the 75 largest private companies.