As Americans in several states endured atypically severe winter weather, power outages, and lack of access to necessities, viral tweets claimed that Portland, Oregon law enforcement was guarding dumpsters outside a Hollywood Fred Meyer to prevent anyone from accessing discarded food:
In the February 16 2021 tweet above, Twitter user @hello__caitlin said:
Hollywood Fred Meyer threw out all their perishables b/c of the power outage. People showed up to salvage whatever they could out of the dumpsters, but Portland Police blocked them from accessing the dumpsters and all the food went bad.
An appended photograph depicted five uniformed officers (many masked) standing next to an orange dumpster, standing in front of a retail location with the words “Garden Center” visible. The tweet was published at 9:13 PM Eastern; the same account retweeted a tweet shared at 5:49 PM the same day:
In addition to stating “go snag some free food if you can get to the Hollywood Fred Meyer in Portland yall,” black text across a photograph of a dumpster full of sausage, hummus, and non-dairy creamer read:
Hollywood Fred Meyer just threw out all their perishables bc of the power outage. Still cool from the snow, get em while you can.
Another tweet (published two minutes prior to the tweet about police guarding the discarded items) said that the dumpsters contained enough food to feed “thousands”:
A similar post on Reddit’s r/Portland tipped Reddit users off to the large quantity of discarded food, describing the items seen in the social media images:
Within the thread’s first few comments, original poster (OP) u/marshmella warned r/Portland users that Portland Police arrived to guard the Fred Meyer dumpster:
A February 16 2021 article in The Oregonian (“Portland police officers guard Fred Meyer dumpsters, face off with residents seeking discarded food”) reported that people had gathered there that afternoon:
Roughly a dozen Portland police officers faced off with a small group at a Northeast Portland Fred Meyer on [February 16 2021] after people tried to take food that had been thrown away.
Workers at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer threw away thousands of perishable items because the store, like many others, had lost power in an outage brought on by the region’s winter storm.
Images on social media showed mountains of packaged meat, cheese and juice, as well as whole turkeys and racks of ribs that had been tossed into two large dumpsters near the store.
Local news affiliate KOIN reported the incident, and added a statement from Fred Meyer about the controversy. In the statement, an unnamed spokesperson for Fred Meyer asserted that the food in the dumpster was guarded “[out] of an abundance of caution,” and that it was “not safe for consumption.”
KOIN added that the Oregon Health Authority maintained “requirements for licensed facilities during a power outage in order to prevent food borne illnesses,” although the outlet did not indicate whether those guidelines involved the use of law enforcement to discourage “dumpster diving”:
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.“
Although throwing out seemingly okay-to-eat food during a winter storm can seem harsh, the Oregon Health Authority does have requirements for licensed facilities during a power outage in order to prevent food borne illnesses.
KOIN embedded a two-page document [PDF] on Oregon Health Authority letterhead, titled “Foodborne Illness Prevention Program Emergency Response Fact Sheet for Licensed Facilities.” That document did advise facilities “Consider discarding … ” perishable items stored at “temperatures greater than 41F,” but did not mention any protocols for guarding foods discarded under the published guidelines.
Several social media posts first advised readers that due to power outages, a large quantity of food was discarded at the Hollywood Fred Meyer in Portland. Subsequent posts claimed that Portland Police were guarding the dumpsters to prevent anyone from salvaging the discarded food, a claim which was corroborated first by local news outlets and later by a spokesperson for Fred Meyer. One news story referenced Oregon Health Authority food storage guidelines for licensed facilities during power outages, guidelines which advised discarding (but not guarding) perishables stored at temperatures exceeding 41F.