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Yes, we’ll have plenty of meat. No, it won’t make you sick.

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When the coronavirus first hit the United States, shortages of toilet paper were all the rage. Luckily, that trend faded.

However, as states across the nation began shutdowns, new fears among consumers picked up steam and haven’t evaporated. Some of the major fears center on the meat-processing industry.

Will we run out of meat? Can we get the virus from eating it?

Though the meat-processing industry never shut down entirely, many meat-packing plants across the nation did halt operations due to the tens of thousands of workers who became infected with the virus.

Lyda Garcia is an assistant professor of meat science and the meat extension specialist in fresh meat processing. Since the outbreak, she has worked to support Ohio’s meat processors in a variety of ways.

She has also been producing articles to help consumers understand the meat processing industry, giving recommendations and reassurances.

“Consumer fear is valid, without a doubt, because of all the unknowns this virus brings,” Garcia said. “But the thing to understand and have faith in is that the meat industry – large-scale, nationally and state level – will continue to provide a safe, wholesome, sound product. That is still their end goal.”

Are you worried about a meat shortage?

I’ve read so many articles about meat shortages, but we need to make sure we define meat shortage. It does not mean we are going to be without it. I do not foresee a day where we’ll have zero meat products available. Will there be a reduced amount? Yes. Will it last a long time? No. I know these large-scale packers who are involved and make up the vast majority of the market shares, and they are trying hard to figure this out to keep operating.

If the amount is indeed reduced, what would you recommend consumers do?

Look at local meat processors. Our local meat processors in Ohio are booked out another year to year-and-a-half. That means those who provide a harvest, or slaughter service, process the meat and have the meat product available for retail sale. They will never run out because they are that full. They are running on 100 percent capacity, they have kicked into overdrive.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has a list of your state inspected meat processors based on regions and districts. Find one and you’ll find there are many benefits to finding a local meat processor.

What about safe meat? Should we worry about getting sick from contaminated meat?

First, (according to the Centers for Disease Control) there is no evidence of the disease being transmitted through food or meat. Of course, traditional food safety measures (especially proper hand washing) and thorough cooking should always be followed.

But the food safety and sanitation practices the industry goes through have been in place pre-COVID-19. President Clinton ensured meat packers were held accountable when it came to food safety. During his presidency, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) was mandated. HACCP is a food safety system that accounts for potential hazards (biological, physical, and chemical) throughout the process that helps meat plants identify and tackle them in attempt to stop pathogens from sickening people. HACCP also accounts for standard operating procedures (SOP’s) that assures proper sanitation is maintained before, during, and post operation. Good manufacturing procedures (GMP’s) is a prerequisite to HACCP.

So now with COVID-19, and still using what I previously mentioned, meat plants have added intervention steps that includes the use of more PPE’s and additional sanitation practices, such as continuously wiping down of door handles, lockers, cafeterias, deep foaming of operation areas, etc. I buy meat from large scale meat processors and local meat processors because I understand what they have to go through and I trust them.

Any other recommendations?

If anyone has questions, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences has various experts in the realm of agriculture. Feel free to reach out. That’s why we’re here.).  Find experts for your questions. Look at OSU Extension as well. Our role is to disseminate information from research to the communities.