May 4 (UPI) -- Panic shopping and shutdowns at meat production plants are prompting major grocery chains to limit the number of fresh meat products customers can buy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Grocery chains Costco, Kroger and others announced temporary limits on meat items, and meat producer Tyson Foods warned Monday that more meat processing plants would be closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Costco said on the company's website that fresh beef, pork and poultry was being classified as "high-demand merchandise" and limited meat purchases to "a total of 3 items per member."
Kroger supermarkets stores may have limited inventory "due to high demand," the company warned on the meat section of its website. Customers were limited to two items of chicken breasts and some pork products.
Texas-based H.E.B. grocery chain announced Friday that stores would limit packages of fresh meat to five per customer.
"To help protect the supply chain in Texas, we've implemented temporary purchase limits on certain items," the company said on its website.
Meanwhile, CEO Noel White of Tyson Foods said in an investor call Monday that the company could continue to face slowdowns and temporary idling of production facilities, due to staff shortages or infection outbreaks.
"We will not hesitate to idle any plant for deep cleaning when the need arises," White said, as reported by CNN Business.
Last week, Tyson Foods suspended operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, plant after almost 200 out of 2,800 workers tested positive for COVID-I9.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that nearly 5,000 workers at 115 meat processing plants across 19 states, or 3 percent of all workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between April 9 and 27. Twenty workers have died from the virus, the federal health agency said.
Meat factories feature crowded assembly lines where workers have difficulty distancing at least 6 feet from one another, the CDC said. Without medical leave and to fill production bonuses, "socioeconomic challenges might contribute to working while feeling ill," the agency said.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to invoke the Defense Production Act to order meat processing facilities to remain open during the pandemic and keep the supply chain moving.
But unions say meat facility employees are not given adequate personal protection and are facing returning to the danger of infection.
"They didn't sign up to die for their job," said Kim Cordova, president of the Denver-based United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7.
Colorado has the most deaths, six, among meat processing workers of COVID-19, where more than 245 cases of the infection were confirmed at the Greeley beef-processing plant of Chinese-owned JBS.
"They signed up to be a good employee, to make a living and to have a piece of the American dream. Not live this nightmare," Cordova added.
Other meat processing companies that have closed plants due to COVID-19 include Cargill Ltd., Empire Kosher Poultry Inc., National Beef Packing Co., and Smithfield Food Inc.