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A southern Minnesota meat processor accused of employing eight teenagers in illegal, hazardous work — including operating a meat grinder and forklifts on the graveyard shift — will pay $300,000 in an administrative fine, according to a Watonwan County judge's consent order issued Friday.

In the consent order, Tony Downs Foods, which produces an array of fully cooked and frozen protein meals, said it disagreed with the allegations first raised by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) in March.

But the company agreed to pay the fine and comply with other stipulations, including hiring a third-party watchdog and communicating labor policies to employees in both English and Spanish.

Employing minors in such environments violates the state's child labor laws. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry completed an overnight inspection of the plant in January when it discovered the underage workers.

The consent order, issued by Watonwan County Judge Stephen Ferrazzano II and signed by Tony Downs President Mike Downs, said the company has "fully cooperated" with investigators with DLI.

"The consequences of child labor violations are substantial and the Department of Labor and Industry is committed to combating these violations," DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach said in a statement.

In a statement issued by David Ross, vice president of human resources, the company maintained the consent order is not an admission of guilt.

"We believe that the administrative penalty included in the settlement was grossly disproportionate, not supported under the law, and an attempt by the DLI to make our family-owned company an example for a serious issue that is pervasive among employers in the food sector and many other industries across the U.S.," the statement said.

A rash of child labor employment — and subsequent federal and state investigations — has rippled across meatpacking plants in the U.S., including in Minnesota. Last year, federal investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor unearthed dozens of children working for a janitorial service in meatpacking plants in Worthington and Marshall.