PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Police had to intervene when dozens of people tried to salvage perishable items tossed in dumpsters following power outages at a grocery store in Northeast Portland, Oregon.
Several supermarkets lost power for a time during severe winter weather over the past week. After photos began circulating Tuesday, people gathered at a local Fred Meyer store to pick through hundreds of packages of meat, dairy and other perishable products.
Even though the store switched to a generator when it lost power, a store spokesperson said some food had spoiled and was not safe to sell so it was tossed “out of an abundance of caution.” But the situation turned sour when news of the store’s actions circulated on social media.
Dozens of people showed up to take the food and refused to leave when store workers told them to go, so employees guarded the dumpsters and police were called.
According to police, an employee called “because they felt the situation was escalating and feared there may be a physical confrontation” after the crowd allegedly threatened several store employees. A Fred Meyer spokesperson said they “engaged law enforcement, as the safety of our associates and customers is always our top priority. “
Dr. Juniper Simonis, a chemical munitions expert and activist, tweeted that there were 12 Portland police officers “who were apparently guarding two dumpsters full of food that mutual aid orgs were trying to distribute and hungry folks were trying to eat.”
Police say they attempted to explain to individuals that the food was thrown out due to health concerns, but claimed no one in the crowd was willing to talk and “continued to shout insults at them and store employees.”
Officers told the crowd to leave the area or risk being arrested for trespassing.
The largest number of officers were at the scene shortly after 5 p.m., including a lieutenant, a sergeant, six officers and three trainees, who were there with their training officers, according to a Portland police statement. Once they believed there were no longer any threats of violence and crowds had separated, officers left the area.
The group dispersed but many people simply returned after police had left and some managed to get their hands on some food items. Some said the food was going to be given to people in need.
“We got to rescue a lot of food for the community,” said one person. “So much of that food was cheeses, cultured dairy like sour cream and yogurt, shelf-stable packaged juices.”
Store employees then called the police once again, saying people had moved back onto the property and were confronting employees by making more threatening statements. However, police decided not to respond again because there was no “imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury.”
A Fred Meyer spokesperson sent the following statement in regard to the incident:
“We appreciate people speaking out against hunger. We get it, throwing away food is never a good thing. Unfortunately, some perishable food that requires refrigeration at our Hollywood store was out of temperature for a protracted period of time. This was due to a weather-related power outage and it is not safe for consumption. Out of an abundance of caution, we are disposing of the product to keep people safe. We engaged law enforcement, as the safety of our associates and customers is always our top priority.
“At Fred Meyer, preventing food waste is part of our Zero Hunger / Zero Waste social impact plan, in which our goal is to reduce food waste and end hunger in the communities that we call home. Each year Fred Meyer donates over 5,500,000 meals of food that is safe for consumption to local food banks, like Oregon Food Bank, Sunshine Division, and others, to help the hungry people of our community.“
Nexstar’s KOIN learned there are many nonprofit groups in the area that continue to see large donations of food from grocery stories, despite widespread power outages.
The Oregon Health Authority has requirements for licensed facilities to adhere to during a power outage in order to prevent food-borne illnesses.
Read the full OHA fact sheet below: