Limits on meat purchases force additional grocery shops for large families

Many local grocery stores are limiting meat purchases due to a slow-down in meat processing nationwide paired with high demand from shoppers panic-buying during the coronavirus outbreak.

At least 20 workers at meat plants across the country have died from COVID-19 and thousands more have tested positive, forcing the temporary closures of several plants. Although most large grocery store chains in Massachusetts reported having no meat shortages, some confirmed they are limiting purchases to maintain their supplies.

Stop & Shop told Boston 25 News that only a small number of meat plants that supply the company closed, but those closures were short and have not had a significant impact of their meat supply.

The company has, however, implemented limits on meat purchases in response to consumer demand.

"Even though we are not experiencing any significant issues in terms of supply, heightened attention around plant closures and the meat supply has led to increased demand," spokesperson Maria Fruci said. "As such, Stop & Shop has set a limit of two per customer for each item in-store. For home delivery customers, the limit is two packages each of chicken, beef, pork and turkey. This is to ensure that meat is available for as many customers as possible."

Fruci said Stop & Shop has begun relying on alternative meat suppliers including companies that typically sell meat to restaurants, as the foodservice industry is suffering.

Boston 25 News has learned Walmart, too, is working with restaurant suppliers. Customers may notice different packing on their meats.

The restrictions are forcing some large families to make several trips to the grocery at a time when local officials are urging the public to stay home as much as possible.

Ruth Pichardo, who lives in Dracut with her family of 10, told Boston 25 News on Tuesday that she cannot buy enough meat in one shop to cook a meal for her whole family.

"We're only allowed to get two packs of chicken per family," Pichardo said of shopping at Market Basket in Hudson, N.H. "And with everybody buying all the meat and chicken all of a sudden, there's barely any packs left. And they're usually the smaller ones that maybe have two or three chicken breasts in them, which doesn't feed our family."

Pichardo, who lives with her fiancé and five children, as well as her brother, future brother-in-law and future mother-in-law, has had to get creative to bring enough groceries home.

"We've been doing an Instacart order," Pichardo said. "My fiancé will go out on a Thursday morning as early as possible as he can. Then my mother-in-law will go over the weekend and get more stuff. And it's kind of on a rotation between Instacart and my mother-in-law and my fiancé."

But Pichardo is concerned that unnecessary grocery trips could be exposing her family to the virus.

“Whenever anybody leaves, they come back, take off their clothes, take off their shoes, shower, change and try to be very careful,” Pichardo said. “I’m very scared because if one person brings it in the house, it’s pretty easy for everybody else to catch it.”