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Major grocery chains rationing meat purchases to curb hoarding

Meat shortages as virus forces plants to close

A growing number of major grocery sellers have started limiting how much ground beef and fresh pork customers may buy amid escalating concerns about meat supplies in the U.S.

Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain, on Friday said it is limiting meat purchases at some stores, citing the rash of closures at processing plants due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers at the facilities.

First reported by CNN, Kroger did not reveal how many of its locations would be curbing customer purchases of beef and pork. Kroger operates more than 2,700 stores under multiple banner names, including Fred Meyer and Harris Teeter.

"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," a spokesperson said in the email. "There is plenty of protein in the supply chain; however, some processors are experiencing challenges."

Meat processing plant workers fear for their safety

Kroger isn't alone is restricting how much protein consumers can pile into their shopping carts. Warehouse chain Costco is also temporarily restricting purchases of beef, pork and poultry products, limiting members to three items. 

"Costco has implemented limits on certain items to help ensure more members are able to purchase merchandise they want and need. Our buyers and suppliers are working hard to provide essential, high demand merchandise as well as everyday favorites," the company stated on its website. 

And Giant Eagle stated on its site: "To ensure availability of popular items including ground beef and on-sale meat items, we are temporarily limiting the purchase amount of these items to two of each per transaction." 

More than 20 meatpacking plants around the U.S. have closed at some point in the past two months, reducing pork production by about a quarter and cutting beef output by about 10%, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers, a trade union. 

Nearly 4,200 workers at 115 meatpacking plants have been infected with the coronavirus, and 20 of those workers have died, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC findings likely underestimate the scope of the problem as not all states with infections at meat plants have reported them to the federal agency. 

— CBS News' Max Bayer contributed to this story.

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