As power outages continued across Portland, Oregon, in the aftermath of multiple winter storms, local police descended on a grocery store to prevent people from distributing heaps of recently discarded food to those in need.
Large storms have slammed the region with ice and snow over the last week, leading to outages for hundreds of thousands of buildings and homes.
Employees at a Fred Meyer store that lost power Tuesday filled two large dumpsters along the side of the building with packaged meats, condiments and other perishables that could not be sold without refrigeration. Images posted on social media appear to show thousands of discarded items, including sliced packaged cheeses, packaged sausages, yogurts and dairy products, vegetables and large cuts of meat. People began gathering to salvage what they could.
Later that afternoon, however, Portland Police Bureau officers arrived on the scene. The department told HuffPost that it received a call from a Fred Meyer employee around 4 p.m. local time about “a group of people arguing with employees and refusing to leave the property.” No officers were immediately able to respond, the department said, and an employee called back around 15 minutes later because “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 department said in a statement.
Local activist Morgan Mckniff told The Oregonian that Fred Meyer employees had summoned the police after attempting to guard the dumpster themselves.
About a dozen officers eventually showed up after around nine employees attempted to block the dumpsters, Mckniff told HuffPost.
Fred Meyer, a chain owned by Kroger, said employees were “concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk foodborne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution.”
“We apologize for the confusion,” the company said in a series of tweets.
Mckniff said that the food was clearly not past its expiration date.
“I’m sure their power went out and they were overcautious with regulation, but the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act (a federal law passed in 1996) protects them from the liability they are claiming,” Mckniff said.
The Portland Police Bureau said store employees called again later in the evening, but that officers declined to respond to the scene due to a lack of “imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury.”
No arrests or citations were made, police said.
Around 100,000 businesses and homes in Portland remained without power Wednesday morning, joining the millions of people in Texas who are suffering from rolling blackouts due to problems with the state’s power grid in the aftermath of severe winter weather.
The city’s police force was the subject of nationwide criticism last summer for its heavy-handed response to protests against police brutality and racial inequality, which morphed into protests against local and federal law enforcement itself.
In July, federal officers sent in by former President Donald Trump were spotted grabbing activists off the street and putting them in unmarked vehicles, further fueling anger among residents after one protester was shot in the head by impact munitions and required surgery. The protests began to subside after the federal officers began leaving the downtown area later in the summer.