(HealthNewsDigest.com) – The simple answer is, yes. The US is a champion food producer. We actually grow and produce more food than is needed to feed our population. And, our food supply is dispersed throughout the US, so we are not dependent on one area to supply the needs of many. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, people panicked and overreacted. They were scared and this is a natural response. You want to be safe. You want to keep your family safe. Food is critical to survival so if the refrigerator and pantry are stocked you have done something positive in a time of crisis.
Now that working from home, home schooling and store closures have become the new norm, it is time to actually take a look at whether we need to stay in disaster mode or can we rely on the US food supply to keep us fed. We can.
Typically, grocery chains and smaller independent retailers work on small margins. After the recession of 1990 the industry as a whole came under pressure from investors to improve profit margins. One way to do this was to reduce inventory kept on hand. Thirty years ago, retailers had fully stocked back rooms and basements. Today, deliveries are more frequent and a 4 to 6 week supply is typical for most chains. Smaller stores may keep even less. The run on warehouse stores, supermarkets and smaller retailers that occurred at the beginning of March sold out this inventory in a matter of days.
Stores shelves were empty and people worried. The scarcity of foods was driven by the smaller inventories and overbuying by worried shoppers. And the result was no toilet paper or hand sanitizer to be found anywhere. Pasta, rice, bread and even Spam became scarce. But the empty shelves had nothing to do with lack of food. It was an issue of unprecedented demand not a lack of capacity to produce, process and deliver food to stores.
Manufacturers immediately went into overdrive, working around the clock to restock shelves. In most areas of the country this has been accomplished. In very densely populated cities, with limited supermarkets, stores are struggling to keep up with demand. The Food Marketing Institute, the food industry association, is encouraging shoppers to purchase no more than 7 to 14 days worth of food and pet food. Some stores are even posting that they are receiving deliveries throughout the week and what may be short supply today will be fully available tomorrow. As of the third week of March, the supply chain was still 2 to 3 days behind demand but it was catching up quickly. Locally, spikes in demand for food happen every time there is a shelter in place warning. Even with this there are no nationwide food shortages, just localized reports of shortages and they are resolved in a few days.
Covid-19 is a virus that causes a respiratory illness. The spread of the virus is mainly person to person. There is no evidence that food or food packaging is connected with the transmission of the virus. But there are steps we can take to avoid transmission when you shop. Wear disposable gloves. Don’t use reusable bags. Many stores are banning them. Use, one-use paper or plastic bags and discard them when you get home. Stores are putting up clear sneeze-guards between cashiers and customers. Stand behind them to protect the workers. After health care workers, government officials realized they are essential front-line workers who need protection to keep doing their jobs. Use floor decals that promote social distancing at checkout lanes and other counters. Don’t complain if smaller stores limit the number of shoppers in a store at one time. Don’t make remarks if the grocery workers are wearing masks and gloves. Stifle your annoyance if store hours are cut. These people are working very hard and need a break, too. Consider using online shopping or click and collect. Kroger is piloting a program for pickup-only stores. Shoppers order and drive by and pick up their completed order.
The Corvid-19 pandemic is going to have long term effects on the grocery industry but they are stepping up to meet the challenge. Next time you shop or call in an order remember to say “thank you”, as these workers are crucial to your community.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books.
Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Diabetes Counter – the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes
Calorie Counter – a weight loss guide that won’t let you down
Protein Counter – put the latest protein recommendations to work for you
Healthy Wholefoods Counter – planet-friendly eating made easy
Complete Food Counter – food counts and nutrition information at your fingertips
Fat and Cholesterol Counter – newest approach to heart-healthy eating
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com or on Twitter @JoAnnHeslinRD.