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Current information on the COVID-19 situation at Tönnies in Rheda-Wiedenbrück

In this section, we will provide information on the current developments relating to the outbreak of coronavirus, and the mass testing and steps that are necessary at the main Tönnies site in Rheda-Wiedenbrück because of this. The Tönnies Group will also provide current press releases and statements here together with questions and answers on various topics. You will also find a selection of steps and restrictions that Tönnies has implemented since the start of crisis management for the pandemic on 27 February 2020 in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus at the site.

Latest press information

Questions & answers on the situation

To date, how many employees have tested positive for COVID 19?

In the course of mass testing of employees from the Rheda-Wiedenbrück site, 6,139 samples have been taken to date (as of 25 June). 1,413 employees were found to have the coronavirus.


Why did the company not immediately provide the public health authority in Gütersloh with all employee addresses?

Tönnies immediately provided the names and addresses of all permanent employees. However, because of data protection, the company has no information on the residential addresses of the contract employees. This information remains with the subcontractor who employs these contract employees. Tönnies is only provided with the first name, last name, gender and birth date of the contract employees. Immediately after the request for a list of addresses, the company immediately asked its subcontractor to provide all addresses.


What will happen at the site when the mass testing has been completed?

All employees from Production and Administration at the company were tested for COVID-19. The tests are still being evaluated. All employees and their families are in quarantine until 02 July 2020. On the basis of the test results and an evaluation of the measures already implemented in the company by the district administration and public health authority for the district of Gütersloh, together with the pandemic team from Tönnies, efforts will be made to find out the cause of the coronavirus outbreak. On this basis, future steps will be agreed and decided upon so that production can restart at Rheda-Wiedenbrück and the source of infection be combated effectively.

What is the situation at the other Tönnies sites in Germany?

At the moment we can work without restrictions at all sites apart from Rheda-Wiedenbrück. There are currently no positive results at the other sites.


Is there also mass testing there, and if so, what are the results?

We are in close liaison with the local authorities at the sites with regard to further testing, which could be carried out if necessary. These tests were ordered by the authorities and we were fully supportive at all times.


Were other sites besides Rheda-Wiedenbrück temporarily closed?

No, none of our sites in Germany, apart from Rheda-Wiedenbrück was, as yet, closed down due to an outbreak of the infection. Production continues at Weißenfels, Sögel, Kellinghusen, Dissen, Badbergen, Legden, Böklund/Satrup etc.

Is Tönnies allowed to continue with slaughter and processing operations in Rheda-Wiedenbrück?

No, the site is closed. All production and administration employees are at home in quarantine. For a small number of employees, “work quarantine” was imposed and these persons may be both at work and at home.


What will happen to the slaughtered animals which should have been processed at the site?

Until Saturday 20 June, production was permitted to work through the buffer and stocks to prevent large quantities of meat having to be discarded. So parts of production had permission to manufacture and supply products from the remaining fresh meat from approx. 40,000 slaughtered animals up until Saturday 20 June.


To whom does the quarantine situation apply at the Rheda-Wiedenbrück site?

All production and administration employees have been at home in quarantine since Friday evening on 19 June. This means that these employees must remain in their apartment/accommodation. And family members of production and administration employees from the same household are also in quarantine. For a small number of employees, “work quarantine” was imposed.


What rules apply to employees in quarantine?

All employees in quarantine are forbidden by the authorities from carrying out all private activities such as shopping, visiting the hairdresser, travelling, etc. They must remain in their houses or apartments. This also applies to their family members and relatives from the same household.

Administration staff in “work quarantine” may be at home or at their workplace in administration. The journey to work, and from work to home, must be direct and a face mask must be worn at all times.


How long will the quarantine situation last?

Initially, the “work quarantine” is valid for production employees until 2 July. The production stop for the Rheda-Wiedenbrück site is also valid for the same period of time. The situation will be reassessed by the district of Gütersloh and the relevant authorities along with Tönnies after evaluation of all tests on production employees at Rheda-Wiedenbrück.

Can meat products from the Tönnies site in Rheda-Wiedenbrück transmit the COVID-19 virus?

Consumer protection experts and nutritionists have again clarified that, based on all available knowledge, there is no risk in consuming the meat in these products:


Sabine Klein, Nutritionist at NRW Consumer Advice Centre:

“Based on our current state of knowledge, the consumption of meat from the Tönnies site in Rheda-Wiedenbrück is harmless”, said Sabine Klein, Nutritionist at the NRW Consumer Advice Centre with responsibility for the topic of meat, to the Westdeutschen Allgemein Zeitung (WAZ).



NRW State Ministry for the Environment, Agriculture, Nature and Consumer Protection:

The NRW State Ministry clarified on 19 June that “there are still no indications that the coronavirus can be transmitted via food, in this case, via meat products specifically. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is as yet not aware of any infections of SARS-CoV-2 where the transmission method is food.”


Why did the company decide to continue to produce meat and sausage products in spite of the lockdown in March?

At the start of lockdown, the Federal Government classified food-producing companies, including the Tönnies companies, as system-relevant [an essential service]. The reason: the products manufactured by the company make a significant contribution to providing the population in this country with meat and sausage products via food retailers during the pandemic.


What steps did Tönnies take towards fighting the virus?

Back on 27 February – almost a month before lockdown on 23 March – the company devised a comprehensive pandemic plan which was approved by the responsible authorities and implemented internally. The pandemic plan followed the recommendations of the Federal Government and the Robert Koch Institute and was distributed to the employees at sites in Germany. All steps taken in the Pandemic Plan are listed below. The Pandemic Plan was updated regularly and adjusted in line with the recommendations of the RKI and the authorities.


Did the Tönnies Pandemic Plan fail?

Almost three months passed between lockdown (23 March) and the current outbreak (17 June). It continues to work at many other German production sites. Within the framework of the concept, all steps and provisions prescribed by the Federal Government, the state governments and relevant authorities that were valid at the start of lockdown were implemented.


Did the company management act irresponsibly?

With the lockdown (23 March), the company management initially, as agreed with the Federal Government, did their utmost to secure the supply of meat and sausages for retailers and citizens and, at the same time, to plan and implement the pandemic restrictions at the plants. The company management then also adjusted the pandemic concept each time that lockdown was eased for the population as a whole and thus also for the employees. This worked well for almost three months. Then on 17 June, there was the outbreak in Rheda-Wiedenbrück.


How high were the infection figures for previous tests within the Group?

In the first months of the pandemic, the company recorded 128 positive cases out of more than 13,000 tests carried out within the entire Group.


So how did the virus reach the site in Rheda-Wiedenbrück?

As it stands now, this question cannot be answered with 100% certainty. The responsible public health authority, the district administration and the pandemic team at Tönnies are currently trying to establish this.

Why did the company not immediately provide the public health authority in Gütersloh with all employee addresses?

Tönnies immediately provided the names and addresses of all permanent employees. However, because of data protection, the company has no information on the residential addresses of the contract employees. This information remains with the subcontractor who employs these contract employees. Tönnies is only provided with the first name, last name, gender and birth date of the contract employees. Immediately after the request for a list of addresses, the company immediately asked its subcontractor to provide all addresses.


Can the contract workers from Tönnies afford to make weekend trips home with their wages?

The contract employees all have a German employment contract with social insurance. The regulations of the Minimum Wage Act are also valid. Many contract employees are currently using long weekends to visit their family or friends at home. e.g. in Poland. These employees spend many weekends travelling home using different routes.


Are these home visits by Eastern European employees the cause of the outbreak of the virus in production?

This cannot be established at the moment. The district administration, the public health authority, and the Tönnies crisis team are currently looking at which reasons may be the cause. The fact is that the infection tests at the end of May in Rheda-Wiedenbrück only showed four positive tests.

History of pandemic protection measures at Tönnies

Correction of results: The district of Gütersloh corrects the number of series tests at Tönnies in Rheda downwards. The new final result shows 6,139 tests and 1,413 positive results.


Scientific findings: The Bonn hygiene specialist Martin Exner announces the first scientific results of his investigations in the works in Rheda.
At a press conference of the district of Gütersloh, he described that the ventilation and cooling systems in the slaughter department keep the aerosols – through which the virus can be spread – in motion.
According to Exner, that is a new risk factor that was previously unknown. The director of the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health at the University of Bonn
has been researching the causes at Tönnies over the weekend. Link to the video!


Interim result: The mass testing programme on the Tönnies site has ended. 6,139 tests were carried out, to date 5,899 results are available. 4,568 are negative (77.4 percent) and 1,331 positive (22.6 percent). The tests showed that the number of positive results was significantly lower outside of butchering than in this area of operations.


Care of employees: Employees in “work quarantine” start with handing out and delivering boxes of groceries for the Tönnies employees in quarantine.

Technical check: Support with the seven-hour, detailed technical check to determine the cause by the Occupational Safety team of the Detmold District Government, by the public health authorities of the district of Gütersloh, and the Bonn University Clinic in a cooperative atmosphere with our experts.


Production shutdown/support for mobile health centre: Production at Tönnies (In der Mark 2, Rheda-Wiedenbrück) is shut down completely. For a small number of employees from Administration, Logistics and Technology, “work quarantine” was approved. The company supports the district of Gütersloh, the doctors, the Association of Statutory Health Insurance physicians and the Malteser Aid Service in the construction of a mobile health centre at the site in Rheda.


Clinic support: To best support and care for the employees who were admitted to hospital for treatment, Tönnies provided several hospitals and clinics with tablets with interpreting software.


Closure of slaughter operations: Tönnies company management together with the district of Gütersloh jointly agreed on the temporary closure of the slaughter operations at the Rheda site. In agreement with Tönnies, the district of Gütersloh ordered the complete shutdown of the remaining production operations at the site. This is the result of 400 positive results out of 500 tests in one sub-section of production.


Reduction in employees: In view of the increased positive numbers, Tönnies significantly reduced the number of employees in the slaughter department.


Official tests: The district of Gütersloh ordered repeat mass testing for the slaughter department.


Interim result: By 13 June, the company had carried out 1375 of its own tests – of these, 42 were positive.


Reaction to source of infection: Reaction to source of infection: After an increasing number of positive cases were identified by our own test centre and by tests carried out by GPs, measures were intensified. The face mask requirement was then expanded the three-layer face mask across the entire site.


Positive findings: By conducting its own tests, the company can identify two sources of infection. The employees who tested positive are separated, informed and moved to quarantine, together with contact persons.


Own test centre: Tönnies launches its own coronavirus test centre. The employees shall continue to be regularly tested according to their risk. The throat swabs are examined in an accredited independent laboratory.


Interim result: Of around 6400 tests by the district of Gütersloh, only 7 tests were positive.


Interim result: Up until now, 3,252 tests have been evaluated. Of these. 3,249 tests are negative, only three are positive. There is also info on the accommodation checks: In Rheda-Wiedenbrück alone, 280 apartments were checked by the NRW Health Ministry – there were no serious breaches here.


PC on results: As of 13 May, there are NO positive tests at Tönnies. Tönnies communicates these results at a press conference. There are also no positive tests at the other sites.


14-point plan provided: After evaluating the findings following coronavirus outbreaks in other abattoirs, the Tönnies Group prescribes an extensive hygiene concept at their sites to minimise further coronavirus risks. The core element is the risk-based PCR sampling in a dedicated test centre. This 14-point plan supplements the strategy of the past weeks and sets clear rules and responsibilities. Amongst other things, this plan includes the testing of all employees who previously lived in accommodation with more than ten persons and/or were absent from work for more than 96 hours. In addition, standby quarantine housing was set aside for persons with a possible infection.


Start of official mass testing: After numerous infections in several abattoirs, the state of NRW ordered mass testing at all abattoirs – including Tönnies.


Additional risk assessment: The Berufgenossenschaft Nahrungsmittel und Gastgewerbe [Professional Association for Food and Hospitality] publishes a supplement to the risk assessment in the context of SARS-CoV2 Occupational Safety Standards. On the basis of this, Tönnies extends the face mask requirement.


Body temperature scanners: The Group is one of the first companies in the industry in Germany to install a body temperature scanner at the turnstile. This automatically scans employees. If the temperature is above the permitted temperature, the employee is refused entry. He is immediately sent to a doctor to be examined and tested.


Additional canteen facilities: To further rectify the situation in the canteen, additional canteen facilities are installed.


Corona assistance fund: The Tönnies Group sets up a coronavirus assistance fund for the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück. The company provides EUR 500,000 as the starting capital.


Offer of mouth protection: All employees receive a protective head cover with face mask to protect themselves and others. Up until now, this was only mandatory for persons with beards or those in high-risk areas of the company. This is extended with immediate effect to transport to and from the company.


Contact ban/system-relevance: Across the country, an extensive contact ban was prescribed. The Federal Office for Information Security classified the company as “system-relevant” [essential]. The Group was requested to continue to work and thus provide the population with meat and sausage products.


“Bist Du gesund?” [Are you healthy?] posters: Large posters at all entrances to the sites asked every employee every day: “Bist Du gesund?” [Are you healthy?] Only those who are healthy should enter the building, otherwise, they should see a doctor.


Closure of restaurants: Restaurants across Germany succumb for the time being – everything is closed.


Clarification: Further clarification of symptoms of the disease within the workforce via the employee app.


Sticker campaign “Proper handwashing”: Stickers with instructions on the correct handwashing techniques were fixed to all mirrors in the company. These stickers were also distributed to take home for employees’ own accommodation.


Closure of schools and nurseries: Public life in NRW, and across Germany, gradually comes to a standstill. Nurseries and schools are among the services closed.


New employee questionnaire/closure of restaurant for external guests: Employees who join the company must, with immediate effect, submit an affidavit on their state of health and their travel activities over the past two weeks. The site restaurant is also temporarily closed for external visitors. It may only be used by employees of the company.


Home-office instruction following the Federal-State agreement: Across the country, standardised guidelines are launched to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Following these, all employees who are also able to work from home are sent to their home-office.


Dealing with persons returning from holiday: Instruction for all employees in the Group who have returned from holiday to initially stay at home and be tested. Of all those returning from holiday, one employee tested positive and was immediately required to quarantine at home.


Publication of FAQ and division of offices: Clarification of the most important questions and answers relating to the coronavirus using the employee app. The group also moved employees from the same specialist area to other office facilities.


Introduction of Corona Hotline: Employees can call the hotline with questions and receive information in their own language


Cancellation of events: In several federal states, events with more than 1000 participants were cancelled.


Division of the canteen: Spatial separation of employees from different production areas (divisions).


Clarification: Multilingual information posters on coronavirus at the company site. Use of the newly introduced multilingual employee app at all sites.