Major Food Retailers Limit Meat Purchases Amid Pandemic

May 4, 2020 Updated: May 4, 2020

Several major supermarket chains in America have announced limits on how much meat customers can buy, citing pandemic-driven supply chain disruption and the threat of panic buying leaving store coolers empty.

Costco, Kroger, and Albertsons have all announced product limits after key meat processing plants shut amid the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus.

In a “Coronavirus Response” section of its website, Costco said on Monday that customers would be limited to three fresh meat items per purchase.

“Fresh meat purchases are temporarily limited to a total of 3 items per member among the beef, pork and poultry products,” the company said in a statement.

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Shoppers line up outside a Costco to buy supplies amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Feb. 28, 2020. (Duane Tanouye via Reuters)

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the United States, will be imposing limits of two packages per person of fresh pork and ground beef at some of its locations, WCPO reported.

Albertsons has, in the words of a company spokesperson cited by KGTV, announced that “customer purchases will be limited to two packages of beef, chicken, and pork (this means they can purchase up to six packages of meat—two per commodity).”

Some of the retailers insisted the supply chain stress was limited to several suppliers and that, overall, there was plenty of protein in the pipeline.

“At Kroger, we feel good about our ability to maintain a broad assortment of meat and seafood for our customers because we purchase protein from a diverse network of suppliers,” Kroger spokesperson Erin Rolfes said, WCPO reports. “There is plenty of protein in the supply chain; however, some processors are experiencing challenges.”

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The Kroger supermarket chain’s headquarters is shown in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 28, 2018. (Reuters/Lisa Baertlein/File Photo)

An Albertsons spokesperson said the retailer’s move to impose product limits was not due to shortages but to prevent panic buying from impacting product availability on shelves.

“We are not experiencing and do not anticipate any issues with supply or product availability. We did so to prevent panic buying and to ensure more of our customers can find the products they need,” the spokesperson said, according to KGTV.

David Dewey, the president of the California Association of Meat Processors (CAMP), told KGTV that while overall protein production would not be affected that much, individual grocery stores might see some disruption.

“The supply is going to tighten up obviously,” Dewey said.

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A woman shops in the chicken and meat section at a grocery store in Washington on April 28, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat plants open and ensure an ample supply amid the pandemic.

“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” Trump wrote in the order, noting the large impact closures of key plants can have on the food supply chain.

“Closure of a single large beef processing facility can result in the loss of over 10 million individual servings of beef in a single day,” Trump noted. “Similarly, under established supply chains, closure of a single meat or poultry processing facility can severely disrupt the supply of protein to an entire grocery store chain.”

Trump, after getting off a call with meatpacking executives on Wednesday, said that thanks to the executive order, “we unblocked some of the bottlenecks.”

Meanwhile, some major meat plants that closed due to the outbreak have begun resuming operations.

Smithfield Foods reopened its hog slaughterhouse in Monmouth, Illinois, on Saturday, after a weeklong shutdown, while the company’s facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, took its first steps toward reopening Monday after being shuttered for over two weeks because of an outbreak that infected more than 800 employees.

Tyson Foods are workers wearing protective masks
Employees of Tyson Foods are seen wearing protective masks and standing between plastic dividers at the company’s poultry processing plant in Camilla, Georgia, in a file photo. (Tyson Foods via AP)

Arkansas-based Tyson Foods was also resuming “limited production” Monday at its pork processing plant in Logansport, Indiana, where nearly 900 employees had tested positive for the virus.

The JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota—about an hour east of Smithfield’s South Dakota plant—planned a partial reopening on Wednesday.

Meat-processing workers are particularly susceptible to the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, because they typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded locker rooms and cafeterias.

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The Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on April 8, 2020. (Stephen Groves/AP Photo)

According to a CDC report released Friday, more than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the CCP virus, including 20 who died.

The illnesses occurred among 130,000 workers at 115 facilities in 19 states, according to the CDC. Some states didn’t provide data, so the actual count could be higher.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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