Nation’s top frozen burrito manufacturer scales back operations for the safety of its workers
DINUBA – The nation’s largest supplier of frozen burritos, and one of Tulare County’s largest employers, has scaled back production after an outbreak of coronavirus spread to more than 174 workers.
On April 29, Ruiz Foods reported that 43 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 between its Dinuba and Tulare facilities. That number increased to 107 just a few days later.
Company spokesperson Pat Summers said Ruiz Foods began noticing an increase of cases reported by employees shortly after the three-day Easter weekend, mirroring a countywide trend. At last week’s Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, county health and human services director Tim Lutz said the county had seen an upward trend in contact cases involving families that do not live together. Nearly half of Tulare County’s 1,159 cases have come through person to person contact, as of press time.
“It is an important point on the perception of what a household is,” Lutz said. “It is whoever immediately resides with you, not extended family and not family that doesn’t live with you.”
Just as governmental and health authorities are throttling restrictions up and down to minimize COVID-19 cases, Ruiz Foods says it is making data-based decisions about its operations. The company has paused production at its Dinuba plant but resumed operations in Tulare. As more employees, their families and community members are affected, Summers said the company will continue to work production lines and shifts as long as they can do it safely in order to continue to try and maintain its portion of the food supply chain.
Based in Dinuba, Ruiz Foods manufactures around 200 varieties of frozen Mexican foods including enchiladas, burritos, taquitos, chimichangas, and tamales from its facilities in Dinuba; Tulare; Denison, Texas; and Florence, South Carolina. It owns El Monterey, the No. 1 frozen burrito brand in the nation.
“While we recognize that we are an essential business, what is and will always be more important to Ruiz Foods is the health and safety of the Team Members who work in our facilities,” Summers said.
Ruiz Foods has taken proactive measures to protect workers since before the COVID-19 was identified as a pandemic. Summers said the company immediately imposed travel restrictions and hygiene requirements, implemented temperature screening, mandated mask wearing and began educating its workers on measures to prevent infection including increasing physical distance between workers within the facility to the furthest extend possible. Those are in addition to the sanitation processes that were already in place as a certified food supplier.
“The situation has been a challenge for employers, especially as guidance has changed,” Summers said.
Once Ruiz Foods identified workers who were exposed to someone who had contracted the virus, either family members or coworkers, Summers said the company sent that person home and placed them on a two-week self quarantine in accordance with guidance from the Tulare County Public Health Branch, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They also work to get that person tested.
Testing employees was made easier in the last week, as Tulare County opened two new testing sites in Dinuba and Porterville. The site at the Dinuba Memorial Building, 249 S. Alta Ave., Dinuba, CA 93618, began taking appointments on Monday, May 4 and began its first testing the next day. The Porterville facility began testing last week. The Porterville Memorial Building is located at 1900 W. Olive Ave.
Each new testing location has the target of conducting 132 tests per day for community members, including those working in essential sectors or are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19. California public health officials have partially lifted restrictions on who should receive tests for the coronavirus, recommending for the first time that asymptomatic people living or working in high-risk settings such as nursing homes, prisons and even some households should now be considered a priority for testing.
Those interested in being tested are encouraged to use the web registration process at lhi.care/covidtesting. Community members without internet service are asked to call 1-888-634-1123 for assistance.
“This has been a challenge, but as more testing options become available we will be able to get more team members tested,” Summers said.
This article was updated at 10:48 a.m. PST on May 13.