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The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Photographer: Dan Brouillette/Bloomberg
Corrected

Smithfield Foods Inc. thought it was doing great. In the first quarter of this year, the pork giant’s earnings were up 190% over the same period in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and the close quarters of meatpacking plants made them ideal places for the coronavirus to spread.

Employee infection rates spiked, forcing temporary closures and sudden shortages in supermarket meat aisles. After its revenue plummeted in the second quarter, Smithfield and other meat processors started looking around for strategies to make sure the same thing didn’t happen again.