LEXINGTON, Ky. — By the looks of grocery store meat cases, many Americans may believe there is a shortage in the U.S. meat supply. But, University of Kentucky of meat scientist Gregg Rentfrow explained that is not the case.
“Rest assured, what we have been witnessing is panic buying and stockpiling,” he said. “People are simply buying more meat, and it is no indication of a shortage in our supply chain.”
With farming and meat processing deemed an essential business activity, the agriculture sector has not slowed down. In fact, the North American Meat Institute reported a sharp increase in meat sales, which is evident in grocery stores. When COVID-19 began to globally spread, NAMI began to help the meat industry prepare for increased demand. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service is continuing to actively inspect both large and small processors.
“There’s not a shortage, but with buyers demanding more of certain items, some items may not always be readily available,” Rentfrow said. “That just means that in the short term, you may have to settle for a cut that you don’t usually buy. Our county family and consumer sciences extension agents are great resources for finding recipes and providing instruction on how to cook familiar and unfamiliar cuts of meat. It might be time to branch out and try something new.”
Food safety is also on many shoppers’ minds, and that has only increased during the pandemic. Consumers are asking a lot of questions regarding transmission of COVID-19 through meat and other foods.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging,” Rentfrow explained. “Remember, coronavirus is a respiratory illness that is spread primarily through human contact; it is not a pathogen associated with foodborne illnesses that cause gastrointestinal illness.”
Meat processing facilities in Kentucky and across the United States have rigorous, daily cleaning and sanitizing procedures in place. The workers all wear protective equipment to safeguard against contamination.
Even so, meat processing plants are beginning to feel the impact of the pandemic.
“I’ve heard that some plants have shuttered production due to workers contracting the virus and others have slowed production,” Renfrow said. “Many plants are shifting animals to other plants to help maintain the supply chain.”
Social distancing is a challenge in meat production plants. Rentfrow said many plants are beginning to screen employees before each shift and are providing extra protective gear to help control the spread of COVID-19.
“Some plants are hiring temporary or replacement workers, while others are staggering shifts to help spread workers out in the facility,” he said. “Fortunately, I’m hearing most plants are providing full pay for sick workers who need to miss shifts and they are also providing temporary lunch and break rooms in tents to help spread workers out during times they might naturally be closer together.”
While shopping during this pandemic has been stressful and challenging, Rentfrow urged consumers not to be afraid of meat shortage.
“I just want to encourage people not to stockpile, to be patient and allow the supply chain to catch up,” he said. “The entire meat industry, from farm to processor to retailer, is laser focused on providing a safe product to consumers. There is no shortage and things will even out in the meat case, if we’re patient and continue traditional buying habits.”