Q&AZ: Does My Meat Come From A Plant Where There's Been A COVID-19 Outbreak?

Published: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 3:13pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 3:15pm
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Q&AZ is supported in part by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Several meatpacking plants around the U.S. have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers. A listener asked Q&AZ how can you tell if meat you’re buying comes from one of the affected plants.

Labels on packaged meat and poultry include an "establishment number," and the USDA has an online directory where you can look up that number to find out where the product was produced.

But meat from a plant that has had cases of COVID-19 among workers is safe to consume, said Margarethe Cooper with the Food Safety Program at the University of Arizona's School of Animal & Comparative Biomedical Sciences.

“It has not been shown to be transmissible through food,” Cooper said. 

Cooper said normal food safety practices of chilling, separating, cleaning and fully cooking foods are the most important steps to keep your food safe. She said it's especially important to practice food safety if you're cooking at home more while social distancing. 

But while coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking facilities won’t impact food safety, they will impact supply.

Mark Manfredo is director of the Morrison School of Agribusiness at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He said plant slowdowns and closures mean hog and beef slaughter are both down about 40% compared to last year.

“You start accumulating that over a week’s time, and we’re rapidly approaching approximately a million pigs a week that are not being slaughtered and put into the supply chain,” Manfredo said. 

Manfredo said, for the time being, shoppers can expect to see higher prices and some stores limiting how much meat a customer can buy.