Maddy Lauria - The News Journal
A chicken processing plant in southern Delaware shut its doors this week after federal officials found food safety-related problems.
Allen Harim Foods' plant in Harbeson, along Seashore Highway between Lewes and Georgetown, was effectively shut down by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service on Wednesday for "failure to comply with regulatory sanitary conditions requirement," said agency spokesman Buck McKay.
He declined to provide details about what food safety requirements were not being met.
Allen Harim officials could not be reached Friday afternoon.
While the USDA did not directly order the plant to close, it has removed its inspectors. Without inspectors to give the chicken products the USDA stamp of approval, the processing line has no choice but to stop and halt production, McKay explained.
The Harbeson facility, which slaughters, cleans and packages millions of chickens each month, employed more than 1,450 people as of 2016, rivaling the size of the Sussex County community in which it is located.
Those people will not be able to clock back in to work until the USDA reinstates its inspectors. It is unclear how long that will take, McKay said.
First, Allen Harim must provide federal food safety inspectors with their plan for "preventative measures and corrective actions" to address whatever issues were found. USDA will review that plan before approving it and effectively allowing the facility to reopen.
The processing facility has previously come under scrutiny – and been heavily fined – in the past, both from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations and the state for waste discharge and water pollution violations.
The plant will be under tighter scrutiny from USDA inspectors, who are positioned along the processing line where whole chickens are cleaned, cut and packaged, when it does reopen during a 90-day probationary period, McKay said.
"I can’t give you a timeline at this point because the ball is in their court right now," he said.
Are you an employee and out of work because of the plant closure? Contact reporter Maddy Lauria at (302) 345-0608, email@example.com or on Twitter @MaddyinMilford.