Child labor, just like food fraud, is not usually seen as an indicator of a positive food safety culture, and more instances of turning production over to children keep getting reported.

 The Tony Downs Food Company is the latest meat processing company to be nabbed and fined for child labor violations, this time brought by the Minnesota  Department of Labor (MDL). 

A Minnesota district court entered a consent order requiring the meat processing company to comply with state child labor laws at its production facilities in Minnesota and to take significant steps to ensure compliance with these laws.

It also imposed a $300,000 administrative penalty upon Tony Downs, following  an investigation by MDL into the Madelia, MN, company  finding it employed at least eight children between the ages of 14 and 17 to operate meat-processing equipment in violation of state child labor laws prohibiting minors from working in hazardous occupations

The investigation came during DLI’s audit period of Jan. 26, 2021, through Jan. 26, 2023. These children, one of whom was only 13 years old when hired, performed hazardous work, such as operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts, for the company during overnight shifts.

Shortly after the investigation began, DLI investigators conducted an overnight on-site visit at Tony Downs. The DLI subsequently asked the district court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tony Downs to stop the company from illegally employing children in hazardous occupations while DLI continued its investigation into the company’s labor practices. 

The district court issued the temporary restraining order and injunction on March 15 this year.

“The consequences of child labor violations are substantial and the Department of Labor and Industry is committed to combatting these violations,” said DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach. “This is why DLI is focused on strategic enforcement of the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act, devoting investigatory resources on industries where violations are most likely to occur and using all available mechanisms to aggressively enforce the law. In this case, Tony Downs has agreed to take important steps to prevent child labor violations. All employers should provide training to their employees to help recognize potential child labor violations and take steps to ensure they are not employing children in violation of state and federal laws.”

On Sept. 8, 2023, the Fifth District Court in Watonwan County, Minnesota, issued a consent order in which Tony Downs agreed to comply with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act at its facilities and to pay $300,000 in administrative penalties.

In addition to paying a penalty, Tony Downs agreed to various specific conditions for a period of three years to ensure compliance with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act, including:

  • Hiring a third-party compliance specialist within 90 days to provide training, adopt or revise policies and procedures, and monitor compliance with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act;
  • Ensuring policies, procedures and training related to its agreement with DLI are communicated to employees in an accessible and understandable manner for those of all levels of experience, literacy and education, including providing materials in English, Spanish and additional languages upon request;
  • Notifying DLI of child labor violations found and curing such violations within 10 days; and
  • Submitting regular reports to DLI drafted by the compliance specialist that outline steps taken to comply with the requirements of the consent order.

Among other prohibitions, the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from employing minors in hazardous occupations. It also restricts employers from having minors under 16 years of age work after 9 p.m., more than eight hours in a day, or more than 40 hours in a week. Additional information regarding employer responsibilities under the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act is online at

Federal penalties were imposed earlier this year on 13 meat plants contracting with Packers Sanitation Services and these relationships resulted in the provision of child labor for critical food safety jobs:  PSSI paid fines totaling $1.5 million across eight states.

Name of processorCityStateAffected minorsPenalties Assessed
George’s Inc.BatesvilleAR4$60,552
Tyson Food Inc.Green ForestAR6$90,828
JBS FoodsGreeleyCO4$60,552
Maple Leaf Farms Inc.MilfordIN2$30,276
Cargill Inc.Dodge CityKS26$393,588
Turkey Valley FarmsMarshallMN2$30,276
Buckhead Meat of MinnesotaSt. CloudMN1$15,138
JBS FoodsWorthingtonMN22$333,036
Gibbon Packing Co.GibbonNE1$15,138
JBS FoodsGrand IslandNE27$408,726
Greater Omaha Packing Co. IncOmahaNE5$75,690
Tyson Food Inc.GoodlettsvilleTN1$15,138
Cargill Inc.FionaTX1$15,138
Total penalties paid by PSSI


Separately,  Tennessee-based Monogram Meat Snacks was found employing minors at its production plant in Chandler, MN. U.S. Labor Department investigators discovered two underage employees at Monogram’s Minnesota plant on March 28. Children are at risk for injury and pose a threat to food safety when cleaning equipment.

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