Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on May 2, 2022.

Nothing to See Here

Recent fires at food processing facilities have some claiming there’s more going on than meets the eye. Experts aren’t convinced.


Experts say there’s no credence to recent internet rumors that a number of fires at food processing plants across the country are suspicious or in some way linked.

“It’s not unexpected to see fires in these kinds of structures,” said Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of the NFPA Research division. “Fires are not a rare occurrence. We had 490,000 structure fires in 2020 in the United States. We see a lot of fires every year.”

Last month, rumors began to circulate on social media that a string of fires and other destructive incidents, including a plane crash, at food processing plants throughout the United States appeared suspicious—despite no law enforcement officials saying that was the case. Conspiracy theorists implied the blazes were connected in some way and even that the federal government could have something to do with them. 

The rumors came to a head on April 22, when Fox News host Tucker Carlson stoked the conspiracy theorists’ flames, asking his viewers, “What’s going on here?” 

“The story gets weirder,” Carlson, who hosts the most-watched news show on cable, continued. “Food processing plants all over the country seem to be catching fire.” A guest on his show later called the incidents “obviously suspicious.” 

The truth, however, is that nothing is unusual about any of the fires that have occurred in food processing plants over the first few months of the year. Although no data is kept on fires that occur strictly at food processing facilities, the National Fire Incident Reporting System tracks fires within broader categories like manufacturing, refrigerated storage, and agricultural facilities. In 2019, the number of fires at all manufacturing or processing plants in the country topped 5,300—nearly 15 a day. Additionally, more than 2,000 fires occurred in agricultural, grain and livestock, and refrigerated storage facilities, which could all include food processing operations. 

Messerschmidt said food processing plants, like most industrial facilities, are prone to fires. “Food is fuel,” she said. “So as soon as you’re operating with food, you have something that is combustible.” On top of that, Messerschmidt added, you may have heat from cooking, high-pressure systems, combustible dusts, and other risk factors for fires and explosions present at these facilities. 

While Messerschmidt hopes the focus on these fires will shift away from the conspiracy theories surrounding them, she said there is still value to examining what went wrong in particular incidents. 

“We need to pay more attention to the fire protection measures that are in these facilities, make sure they’re maintained, and make sure they continue to function, so that when you are doing work in these kinds of plants you can make sure you control the risk that’s inherent,” she said.


ANGELO VERZONI is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni.