North Star Foods meat processing facility burns to the ground


A friend mentioned in passing Friday the evacuation of St. Charles, a town of several thousand about 20 or so miles east of Rochester. I was like "What, an entire town?" And so it was. After a fire started at a local meat processing facility, the town's mayor, worried about the proximity of the flames to some tanks of anhydrous ammonia on site, ordered the town's residents to seek shelter elsewhere.

Fortunately, the flames never reached the tanks of the volatile chemical and injuries as a result of the blaze were thankfully minor and limited. The business however, a meat processor called North Star Foods, has been completely devastated, and the future of its 250 employees is uncertain. The company is the small town's biggest private employer and a significant source of its revenue. It processes meat for fast food outlets like Taco Bell as well as other meat companies like Tyson and Hormel.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but was, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, first detected "above an oven that was cooking chicken."

One of my first questions was, what, exactly, were tanks of a dangerous chemical doing sitting around a food processing facility. Minnesota Public Radio (which did some very thorough, nuanced coverage of the incident) thought the same thing, and found out that it's apparently used in large refrigeration systems. The chemical's fumes are extremely toxic to human health.