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Willmar, Minn., plant returns to normal operations after workers sickened

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A Jennie-O Turkey Store processing plant in Willmar, Minn., has returned to normal operations after a medical situation Friday night caused a number of employees to be hospitalized.

WILLMAR, Minn. -- A Jennie-O Turkey Store processing plant in Willmar, Minn., has returned to normal operations after a medical situation Friday night caused a number of employees to be hospitalized.

Jennie-O's processing plant No. 4 in Willmar has returned to normal operations, said Pat Solheid, Jennie-O Turkey Store vice president of human resources and administration, in a statement early Saturday.

The company has "completed a thorough plant inspection with local fire officials and internal safety personnel and found no cause for the event," Solheid said.

Multiple employees were evaluated by local healthcare professionals and released.

"One employee was admitted and is in stable condition," at Rice Memorial Hospital, Solheid said.

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Rice Hospital implemented an emergency plan Friday night and called in additional staff.

Hospital officials said 31 patients from Jennie-O had been triaged and transferred to the emergency department at Rice. All patients are stable they said, adding that the emergency staff continued to assess the patients.

Seven ambulances and the bus were dispatched to the scene, Rice officials said.

Willmar police responded to a call around 7:23 p.m. Friday of a possible chemical leak at the Jennie-O Turkey Store facility that was making employees sick, said Willmar Police Sgt. Michael Jahnke.

He said about 30 employees exhibited symptoms, like coughing and vomiting.

Six employees were transported to the hospital and the rest were treated on a bus outside of the factory until they were transported.

Rice Hospital implemented an emergency plan and called in additional staff.

Hospital officials said later that 31 patients from Jennie-O had been transferred to the emergency department at Rice. All patients are stable they said, adding that the emergency staff are continuing to assess the patients.

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Seven ambulances and the bus were dispatched to the scene, Rice officials said.

Local authorities had not found evidence of a chemical leak as of 9 p.m. and were continuing to search for the cause of the illness. Willmar police and fire personnel searched the plant for a possible chemical leak and the cause of illnesses. The Willmar Fire Department tested for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Responding to the incident were Willmar Police, Willmar Ambulance and Willmar Fire Department.

Jennie-O has two processing plants located in Willmar and others in Faribault, Montevideo, Pelican Rapids and Barron, Wis.

Last week, a Jennie-O Turkey Store executive was part of a panel discussion on workplace wellness programs. Employee benefits manager Lori Tjaden said there that the company has 7,000 employees across its seven production plants, farms and other locations.

Jennie-O began in 1940 with owner Earl Olson raising turkeys, according to company website. The company opened its first processing plant in 1949 in Willmar. Based in Willmar, Jennie-O produces more than 1,500 products distributed in 27 countries.

The company was purchased by Hormel Foods Corporation in 1986. Jennie-O purchased The Turkey Store Company of Barron, Wis., in 2001.

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