As record-breaking winter storms continued to impact much of the US, workers at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer in Portland were forced to throw away thousands of perishable items, some of which had passed their sell-by dates and others that had not been properly refrigerated due to power cuts.
Images on social media showed two huge dumpsters covered in a mountain of packaged meat, juice, yoghurts and dairy products, as well as vegetables.
Dozens of people gathered to collect the food items but were stopped by officers who had considered the discarded food unfit for human consumption, the police said in a statement.
Police officers said they received a call from a Fred Meyer employee saying that people have gathered and are arguing with employees. Later, they again received a called from the store, saying that they felt the situation was escalating.
“The food was unfit for consumption or donation. Officers also tried to explain this to the group of people,” the police said.
On Wednesday, a Fred Meyer spokesman apologised for the confusion and said some of the items were no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies due to loss of power.
“Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk food borne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologise for the confusion.”
Local activist Morgan Mckniff criticised the police intervention, telling The Oregonian that some of the items were clearly not past their expiration date.
More than 100,000 businesses and homes have been hit by power outages in Portland alone as residents continue to face icy conditions. Hotels have filled up in the region as people tried to escape the cold.
The blast of winter weather has crippled lives and businesses across the US, causing dozens of deaths and power outages for about 5 million people. In Texas, where an emergency has been declared by Joe Biden, 150 million people are facing some kind of severe weather warning.