As COVID-19 disrupts and changes consumers’ lives, the food supply chain is in the spotlight, both being praised and criticized. Pictures of empty shelves and signs limiting consumers’ buying continue to float around social media, but those aren’t an accurate snapshot of the work going on behind the scenes to ensure the food supply is there.
While food demand – and the food system – may be strained as more consumers are eating at home, it’s also putting more pressure on food companies to keep up with the increased need.
Michael Dykes, CEO and president of International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), represents food companies across the country. He says from processors to those delivering food, many individuals along the food chain are putting in the extra hours – and going the extra mile – to ensure Americans continue to have an abundance of food.
“This supply chain has been phenomenal all the way including the farmers, all the way through the supply chain to my IDFA members who are processing this milk, it has been phenomenal during this crisis,” says Dykes. “The retailers need to take the limitations off on any suggestions to limit purchases for people. Milk is a nutritious product. And there's plenty of it.”
Tyson Foods and other meat processing plants are implementing employee bonuses as a way to thank workers for what they are doing right now. From beef, pork, poultry and dairy processors to the drivers on the road delivering food items to store shelves, individuals in all food sectors are going above and beyond to make sure the food gets to consumers.
Dykes says from adding extra shifts to implementing other measures to ensure the safety – and availability – of workers, the food supply chain should be commended about what is being done during this critical time. While some staple food items may be in low supply on a given day, Dykes says when it comes to dairy, the panic buying has been met with an increase in shipments. He says that work is no easy task and means dairy processors have ramped up production to answer that need.
“The other thing we have to think about when we have two parents in a household today is that their kids are home because schools are all closed, our members are accommodating the work schedules to allow the parents to split shifts and do other things so one parent can be home to take care of kids or take care of a loved one who needs help here and these kinds of things,” says Dykes. “They're extending the hours where they can. My members are also doing everything they can to ensure the workers that being at work is a safe place to be restricting visitors doing health screenings, doing temperature checks, and hiring nurses to come in to do temperature checks. So, the men and women that are out there 24-7, processing dairy products, producing foods for the U.S. consumer, have been nothing less than absolutely phenomenal. They are going above and beyond the call of duty.”
Dykes says many in the food supply chain are the unsung heroes during this crisis.
“These workers are to be commended,” says Dykes. “My members are working with them. They're there. They're trying to make the workplace the safest place for them to be, and they have stepped up to do their patriotic duty. Enough cannot be said about them.”
THANK YOU to our doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and the food supply workers who are feeding our Nation. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/C8NnKu3CRV— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 4, 2020
President Donald Trump uses time during his press briefing with the Coronavirus Task Force to thank medical and food professionals for all the work being done right now.
Vice President Mike Pence also recently visited a Walmart Distribution Center in Virginia to not only tour the facility, but to thank workers who operate and manage the supply chain.
“Thank you for doing a great job for keeping food on the table for the American people. You’re making an incredible difference here,” Pence said.
IDFA is also thanking workers by launching an #Essential campaign. IDFA says it’s a social media campaign to “highlight the men and women working tirelessly through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak to provide Americans and the world with fresh, safe, nutritious dairy products.”