CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Recent fires at food processing plants across the U.S. have several people speculating online if something else is behind them.
This tweet notes an "odd coincidence" that "18 U.S. food processing facilities burned down in the last six months."
Are people setting food processing plants on fire intentionally in order to create a food shortage?
- Sam Gazdziak, the Communications Manager for the American Association of Meat Processors
- Sarah Little, the Vice President of Communications for the North American Meat Institute
- Tom Super, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Chicken Council
- Fire officials in each case
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
No, people are not setting food processing plants on fire intentionally in order to create a food shortage.
WHAT WE FOUND
In a statement, Little told us “We are not aware of any concerted effort to set food processing facilities on fire.”
In an email, Super told us “I can only speak for chicken, but like any manufacturing plant/industry, there are generally a few fires that occur each year across the country. Most of them are contained rather quickly.”
Gazdziak agrees, saying “We've not seen anything that that points to it being suspicious in any way. A lot of them seem to be mechanical failures, or just you know, very unfortunate, tragic things that happened. But nothing that was deliberate.”
Let’s break down the numbers on what we learned from fire officials:
- 11 of the fires were either ruled accidental, or no foul play was suspected
- Six are still under investigation
- One was at a vacant building that once housed a meat plant, but no longer does
Another note: while the tweet mentions 18 fires in six months in the U.S., only 12 of them actually happened in that time frame, and one happened in Canada.
According to a 2019 report from the USDA, the U.S. has about 36,000 food and beverage processing establishments in operation.
Gazdiak says fires at just 18 plants would not cause a disruption to the food supply.
“So these individual fires, I mean, they might be disruptions for regular customers of those facilities. But the public as a whole shouldn't have seen any major differences," he said.
Super said “ There are about 200 federally inspected chicken slaughtering plants in the U.S. and thousands more that further process chicken. And that’s just chicken. I would not categorize this as an 'alarming trend.'”
The USDA says there are currently no food shortages or widespread disruptions of the food supply in the country.
Here's what we know about the fires:
- On April 19, 2022, a fire destroyed the headquarters of Azure Standard, a distributor of organic food in Dufur, Oregon. In a press release, the company said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
- On April 13, 2022, a fire destroyed a Taylor Farms Processing Facility in Salinas, California. The company’s CEO told KSBW, the NBC station in Salinas, that it plans to rebuild the facility and that the fire was likely the result of a welding accident.
- On April 12, 2022, according to the East Conway Fire Department, a fire destroyed the East Conway Beef & Pork butcher shop and slaughterhouse in Conway, New Hampshire.
- On March 24, 2022, a fire destroyed the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant in Belfast, Maine. According to the Associated Press, it was ruled accidental.
- On March 16, 2022, according to KAIT, a fire caused extensive damage to a new production line dedicated to Hot Pockets at a Nestle plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The fire was not the result of foul play or anything suspicious.
- On February 22, 2022, a propane boiler explosion caused a fire that destroyed the Shearer's Foods potato chip plant in northeast Oregon.
- On February 15, 2022, a fire destroyed a building that used to be the home of the Bonanza Meat Co. in El Paso, Texas. According to the fire department there, the building was not in use at the time of the fire.
- On February 3, 2022, according to NBC15 in Madison, WI., a fire destroyed part of the Wisconsin River Meats site in Mauston.
- On January 13, 2022, according to KALB, an explosion and fire damaged the Cargill-Nutrena plant in Lecompte, Louisiana.
- On January 6, 2022, a fire did extensive damage to a poultry processing plant in Hamilton, Ontario according to CHCH-TV.
- On December 13, 2021, a fire broke out at a food processing plant in San Antonio, Texas. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found a freezer on fire in the facility. $150,000 worth of food was destroyed in the fire.
- On November 29, 2021, a fire broke out at the Maid-Rite Steak Company meat processing plant in Scott Township, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. The cause of this fire has been ruled an accident. Authorities think the fire started in a wall.
- On September, 12, 2021, a fire broke out at the JVS USA beef processing plant in Grand Island, Nebraska. According to Drovers, the nation's oldest livestock publication, the fire was determined to be from a heater near the roof in the rendering area of the plant.
- On August 23, 2021, a fire broke out at Patak Meat Products in Cobb County, Georgia. In March of 2022, the company said on Facebook that it is still rebuilding.
- On July 31, 2021, according to WVTM, the NBC station in Birmingham, Alabama, a fire broke out at Tyson's River Valley Ingredients rendering plant in Hanceville, Alabama.
- On July 25, 2021, a fire damaged a Kellogg’s plant in Memphis, Tennessee. According to fire officials, it was accidentally sparked when a malfunctioning conveyer belt sparked a blaze in a rice drying machine.
- On April 30, 2021, a fire broke out at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Monmouth, Illinois.
- On January 11, 2021, a fire destroyed the Deli Star meat processing plant in Fayetteville, Illinois, according to Meat+Poultry.
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