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 Another reason for Local Foods

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Kathy D
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PostSubject: Another reason for Local Foods   Fri Jan 30, 2009 12:48 pm

Here's some light weekend reading :study: . :P


Will a pandemic break the food supply chain?
First in a two-part series examining the ability of food manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to deliver essential products in a pandemic. Part 2 looks at what some major industry players are doing to prepare, including assessing their suppliers.

Mar 22, 2007 (CIDRAP Source Weekly Briefing) – Worker absenteeism, transportation stoppages, hoarding, and stealing will disrupt food delivery. Whom your employees depend on for food could dictate how well they eat.

Food is so basic, so available, it's easy to take for granted. The US Department of Homeland Security considers food and agriculture one of its 13 critical-infrastructure sectors. Yet pandemic preparedness among food suppliers appears spotty at best, with some large players in the grocery industry confident they will be able to deliver to their customers, some admitting they have no plan at all, and others hedging the question.

The food industry has no fat, running on as few workers as possible. That efficiency makes it difficult for pandemic planners to compete for resources. "Grocery is a low-margin business, and it's natural that pandemic planning is going to compete for resources with other projects that have established deadlines. This is going to be true in any industry that runs fairly lean," says Jay Schwarz, vice president for information systems at grocery wholesaler and retailer Alex Lee, Hickory, N.C.

In addition, today's just-in-time manufacturing and delivery system has largely done away with warehouses in favor of "distribution centers." This means that any loss due to worker absenteeism or transportation disruptions will affect its ability to function, says Shaun Kennedy, PhD, deputy director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. And, although the government considers food and agriculture a critical infrastructure in a pandemic, it isn't giving it much support. That's because its ability to support a critical infrastructure is based on funding mechanisms that disqualify most food companies, Kennedy says.

The food supply chain is long and fragile. Food must make its way from farms and factories to wholesalers, who in turn sell food to retailers, such as supermarkets and independent grocery stores, food service companies, and institutions, such as schools and nursing homes.

A severe pandemic could disrupt the chain quickly, meaning empty shelves for grocery stores without a solid pandemic plan and only a few days' or weeks' stock of high-demand items.[/size] "There are some [food] companies that have done some disaster-planning exercises. But on the whole, neither our policies at the federal, state, or local levels in responding to a pandemic, nor our private-sector food and agriculture infrastructures, are prepared for the range of possible magnitudes of a [highly pathogenic avian] influenza outbreak," Kennedy says. "If it's a [mild] outbreak like 1968, we're fine; if it's like 1918 [severe], we're not ready."


When demand outstrips supply

Events threatening to disrupt the flow of food include:

Restrictions in the ability to import food due to border closings. Many foods, such as green onions and shrimp, come from outside the country.

  • Disruptions in the availability of diesel fuel for delivery trucks.
  • A shortage of worker to manufacture, process, deliver, and sell food due to illness, the need to care for sick family members, or an unwillingness to risk going to work. Low-paid and part-time workers in particular may consider it not worth the risk of infection, and others may refuse to work without personal protective equipment, such as N-95 respirators (worn like masks), likely to be in short supply.
  • Hoarding or stealing of food from storage sites or delivery vehicles.

These disruptions will occur simultaneously with a large increase in demand for food from consumers, who will shift away from dining out to eating at home, experts say. According to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, food purchased away from home in 2005 accounted for 49% of all food spending, up from 39% in 1980.

Weak links in the chain

Will grocery stores be able to handle the demand? "That is anyone's guess," says a pandemic preparedness planner from a large, national grocery store chain who asked to remain anonymous. (We will refer to him as Company A planner.) "It depends on how severe the pandemic is, and I wouldn't even venture a guess as to that. I think our desire is always to keep our stores open as long as we can, but there may come a time when, for lack of help and/or lack of product, stores would have to close."

HyVee, the West Des Moines, Iowa–based grocery store chain, recently set off alarm bells when spokeswoman Chris Friesleben said the company has no pandemic plan and is going to wait until an outbreak seems imminent to formulate a plan. HyVee operates 200 stores in the Midwest. (See "Points to Ponder" in the Feb 22, 2007, issue of Weekly Briefing.)

Company A has a year-old pandemic plan that addresses all facets of its operation, from human resources policies to its supply chain. It is considering limiting the number of food items that each consumer can buy during a pandemic, to avoid shoppers clearing out its supply.

However, the company ruled out plans for alternative food-delivery mechanisms, such as Internet shopping, self-checkout, or curbside pickup, because they were either too labor-intensive or had too many government restrictions. In addition, it believes that consumers, most of whom keep only a few days' worth of food at home, will have to visit the store, says Company A planner. Rather, the company intends to keep its stores open as long as possible, offering hand sanitizers to shoppers and employees and, perhaps, surgical masks to workers. The planners considered N-95 respirators but found wearing them for long periods or talking with them on problematic for employees. "We have no magic solutions," the planner says.

Most of the chain's food is domestically produced, he says. "Our supply chain is diverse enough, and we're a big enough player, that as long as it's functioning, we'll probably get our share. If the drivers can't get [food] to our distribution centers, that's going to be a problem." At this point, the company has no plans to address this problem.

Alex Lee's Schwarz says he's had a broad range of reactions from vendors. His company and its three businesses employ about 10,000 workers, most of them working for Lowe's Foods, a grocery chain of more than 100 stores. In addition, Merchants Distributors (MDI) distributes grocery products to hundreds of grocery stores. The third business unit, Institution Food House (IFH), supplies food service products to thousands of schools, restaurants, and healthcare facilities in the eastern United States. "We've talked to our vendors, and some of them are taking it [pandemic planning] seriously, and others don't really get it," he says. "It seems that people have become bored with it and moved on." (Weekly Briefing will explore Alex Lee's plan in detail in the Mar 29, 2007, issue. Until then, you can view the plan and other resources for the food industry on the CIDRAP Business Source Web site.)
Distortions and disruptions



Kennedy predicts a limited availability of foods that people are used to eating, which means normal diets will change—and not necessarily in a healthy way. "The longer [the pandemic] goes on, the more limited our diet becomes," he says. "We have more reserves of salted, fatty foods than canned fruits and vegetables."

For people who lack transportation, getting food may become a problem if there are driver shortages or if drivers refuse to travel to areas they perceive as high risk.

Some consumers may fare better than others, according to Craig Watson, vice president of quality assurance and agricultural sustainability for Houston-based SYSCO, the nation's largest food service marketer and distributor. The company, which has nearly 50,000 employees in 172 locations in the United States and Canada, assumes that many of its customers, such as restaurants, hotels, schools, and colleges, will shut down by the time the pandemic takes hold in the United States.

"When a pandemic develops, we will have only four customer types: hospitals, nursing homes, penal institutions, and the government. Our procurement activities will be predetermined, and we will have identified the 200 items we need to stock. We have identified and established the relationships with the suppliers that we trust will be able to deliver those items to our distribution centers." (Weekly Briefing will detail SYSCO's plan in the Mar 29, 2007, issue.)

When Weekly Briefing asked SuperValu, the third-largest grocery retailer and the largest wholesale food distributor in the United States, about its pandemic plan, it provided a written response from Carol Martinson, vice president of asset protection; Roger Hancock, director of food safety and preparedness; and Dave Wiemer, director of supply chain food safety. Spokeswoman Haley Meyer said that Martinson was traveling and was not available for an interview. The response said that SuperValu has a cross-functional asset-protection team that consists of food safety and loss-prevention personnel. "This team has engaged all of our business units as well as reached out to communicate this important requirement to our business partners (independent retailers, vendors, manufacturers)," the statement says.

The Eden Prairie, Minn.–based retailer, which employs 200,000, has 2,500 store locations, operating such chains as Cub Foods, Albertson's, and Save a Lot. It has also established special task forces for a pandemic or bioterrorism attack, Martinson says. SuperValu is "redefining food safety management through our planning efforts, record-keeping processes, associate training, and collaboration with public health agencies, trade associations, and regulatory agencies," the statement says.

However, when pressed for details about the plan, Meyer said the company cannot provide plan specifics "for security reasons."

Schwarz says he hopes that all food industry players will find a way to share information and work together to put food on the table (see sidebar): "In some ways, people in the food industry need to realize that they're somewhat like first responders, and we're going to have to figure out a way to keep our businesses going."

—Mary Van Beusekom[/i]
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mythoughts
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PostSubject: that was a rather prophetic post   Sat May 23, 2009 8:06 pm

I hope that the various food retailers have read this post! This post is forethought. Forethought and mindfulness. Never hurts to put an extra case of good stuff in the basement.
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LittleDeb
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PostSubject: Preparation   Sun May 24, 2009 12:17 pm

Thank you for printing this. I hope that people would read this and prepare themselves for anything that can happen. Living in the country prepares oneself for anything to happen. It's not so easy to jump in the car, run downtown to get a gallon of milk, loaf of bread when you run out especially when there's a snowstorm. People should be asking themselves, what would happen if there was a tornado, snowstorm, etc where you couldn't get out or if there was no electricity, what would they do? I know that there are places and people who can assist in preparations but its only good if you do it.
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PostSubject: preparation   Sun May 24, 2009 7:52 pm

I hope we don't forget what life was like during the power outage a few years ago. I was so worried about one friend of mine in the hills who lives alone. When I finally did get a hold of her she laughed, why are you worried about me she said. She has lived through many power outages and terrible winters and she had her old hand well pump oiled with new seals the year before, food in her basement, propane in her tank, etc. I was the one without a manual ignition on my furnace! She's so smart.
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PostSubject: snart   Sun May 24, 2009 7:54 pm

and so are you for bringing up the issue before there's a disaster a foot- summer is the best time to get repairs done, put food by, work out plans, talk to our food providers. The middle of a crisis, well it's a lot harder to make plans then.
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