The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns have drastically impacted food supply chains across the world. The initial wave of lockdowns has noticeably impacted the supply of everyday items, like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, water, and canned foods. Due to the drastic rise in demand, it took weeks, if not months, to replenish everyday items in some areas of the United States. For most, it was alarming to walk down aisles of grocery stores to observe meats, dairy, bread, and other foods at limited supply. Soon, many retail grocery stores began rationing customers by allowing no more than 2 items per visit.
Being prepared with emergency food and supplies used to be considered abnormal or a strange concept to the mass majority. Today, it should make complete sense — preparedness is essential to ensure you and your family are well taken care of in the event of another lockdown, a storm, natural disaster, or loss of electricity. This article is about how the supply chain has been disrupted, consideration for future impacts, and how to prepare during times of uncertainty.
How the food supply chains continue to face disruption
About a month ago, Forbes shared a 7-minute video highlighting the effects of coronavirus on the food supply chain. The video covers multiple aspects: agriculture and farming, meat processing, packaging, and distribution.
With the continuation of restaurants, schools, and hotels shut down across the U.S., farmers that were once producing large quantities of wholesale orders, are now having to waste food because of the decreased demand from the sectors they were once supplying. Stricter packaging requirements set forth by the FDA and USDA have also inhibited the delivery of goods to places like food banks. The impacts have called for a new production and distribution model that no business seems to be ready for.
Meat costs have gone up nearly 25% in some areas while processing plants have closed due to an increase in coronavirus infections. The above map highlights the processing plants that are still temporarily closed.
Moreover, the U.S. relies heavily on packaging materials from China which has been an additional factor contributing to the scarcity of food. With delays in shipments, due to the lockdowns and stricter safety protocols, manufacturers are forced to look elsewhere, and perhaps domestically to source materials.
Another important consideration is the rapid move to digital. With more people shopping online, more direct-to-consumer solutions are on the rise. There’s greater demand for goods to be shipped directly to people’s homes. This requires packaging to not only meet stricter health guidelines, but be designed to ship in smaller and more insulated materials, so they won’t go bad during transportation.
(Related: An article from WebMD, How COVID is Affecting U.S. Food Supply Chain, provides a decent breakdown of the effects.)
Recent developments in China
CNBC recently covered new events happening in China: Floods and the coronavirus create more uncertainty for China as food prices climb. China, being one of the early countries to feel the effect of the coronavirus, have seen food prices rise 11.1% in June from the previous year. Lockdowns have kept restaurants closed and families more frequently cooking at home.
Other factors, such as massive floods, have caused more disruption throughout the global supply chain. Considering societal responses to fear and panic, people race to purchase more quantities of food. The rules of economics here are simple: higher demand and limited supply will naturally increase prices. What China is up against is both scarcity and distribution challenges — not being able to deliver goods to certain areas of the region with a higher-than-normal increase in demand. China predicts these impacts to continue.
With the majority of the population’s eyes on the coronavirus pandemic, many may not see a potential secondary or third situation that could completely dismantle the already fragile food supply chain, such as a storm or power outages (peak hurricane season is from mid-August to late October). Another factor to consider are the continued disturbance of protests and riots in some inner-cities, such as Portland, where buildings and important infrastructure are being desecrated.
Basic steps for preparedness in case of food shortages
Considering the 40+million unemployed, those that are receiving government assistance through the CARES act will expire at the end of July (if not renewed). This should be very concerning for millions of Americans that are still out of jobs.
The recommended amount of food supply can vary. According to Ready.gov, “following a disaster there may be power outages that could last for several days.” I personally recommend a minimum of 1 to 3 months supply of emergency food on-hand depending on the size of the household. To ensure you and your family are fully prepared for the latter part of this year and beyond, here are 5 ways to start preparing for food shortages.
1. Purchase emergency, long lasting, food supplies
There are many emergency food supply options available. The benefits of an emergency food supply is that high quality brands, such as Ready Wise, Mountain House, and others have a long 30-year shelf-life. They are freeze dried, which only requires hot water to be ready in minutes. Be sure to check the nutrition facts to see if they meet your ingredient standards. Some can rely on high amounts of sodium as a preservative. If you’re looking for organic options, they do exist, although the types of foods are limiting.
Additionally, load up on canned goods, such as tuna fish, chicken, green beans, lima beans, kidney beans, peas, etc. Beans tend to carry a good amount of protein if your meat supply is short. Canned foods can carry anywhere between a 3 month to 5 year shelf-life.
2. Get more food storage space
During the early stages of the pandemic, many people realized they didn’t have extra space available as they stocked up on frozen goods. Refrigerators and freezers were wiped completely out of stock for many big retailers.
Luckily, I was able to find a gently used refrigerator for $100. Not only was I lucky to find one, but I saved close to $550 by relying on my personal network to find what I needed. If you’re only relying on large corporations, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Target to get supplies, you’re up against the same roadblocks the current supply chain is experiencing.
In addition to a refrigerator or freezer, I recommend having a decent size cooler or two available in case cold food needs to be put on ice due to a longterm power outage. Lastly, shelving units are a good way to organize a garage, pantry, or utility room.
3. Purchase less-expensive and nutritious meats in bulk
With the rise in meat prices and low inventory in some areas, prime beef, grass-fed, and specific cuts can be difficult to purchase. Instead, look for leaner cuts of beef, like Top sirloin, London broil, or Flank steak. These types of beef provide high protein, less fat, and are still a delicious option. Pork loins are another lean and cost-effective solution. Buying your meats in bulk may require more preparation, but in the long run you’ll be both saving money and becoming better prepared.
4. Use a vacuum sealer food saver
Once you buy in bulk (meats, vegetables, grains, rices, snacks, etc.), using a food storage sealer will significantly add to your shelf life. You can easily extend that shelf life of meats to about 2 to 3 years. Rice and pasta can last up to 1 to 2 years when vacuum sealed and cheese for 6 to 8 months. Obviously, you’d want to stock up on a larger supply of freezer bags to keep your food storage system going.
5. Replace, replenish, and search for more sources of food
It’s important to create a system of replenishment. As new food is purchased, packaged, dated, and stored in a freezer or on a shelf, remember to eat the oldest foods first. The consumed food is then replaced with newly purchased foods. During an emergency situation, canned goods should obviously be eaten before any freeze dried food, or perhaps mixed for varied nutritional value.
In addition to shopping around and increasing your “food source network,” creating your own at-home garden is another logical idea. Planting tomatoes, potatoes, squash, zucchini, and other fruits and vegetables can supplement in times you don’t want to visit a grocery store. On the upside, it can become a fulfilling hobby. Also, learn how to hunt, become a better fisherman, or go as far as raising your own chickens.
This article was not intended to be hyperbole, use sensationalism, or create fear, but rather create a sense of urgency in those that are unprepared.
The bottom line, now is the time to start exploring the many different food options out there and not remain fully reliant on big name grocery chains or big corporations in general. In most states, you’d be surprised how many local farms and butchers are available and likely in need of customers like you. There are plenty of events that could occur simultaneously, creating “the perfect storm,” to dismantle society and generate an inconvenience, or worse, a disastrous outcome.
Thank you for reading this far! If you enjoyed this article, please share with friends and family. Consciousness and preparedness is essential. Also, take a moment to explore the other articles and resources on Mind Money Muscle.