In this special edition of 5 Things, Food Management highlights five things you may have missed recently about developments regarding coronavirus and its impact on onsite dining.
Here’s your list for today:
- Is meat the next toilet paper?
Tyson Foods is warning that "millions of pounds of meat" will disappear from the supply chain as the coronavirus pandemic pushes food processing plants to close, leading to product shortages in grocery stores across the country similar to the run on toilet paper earlier in the crisis.
"The food supply chain is breaking," wrote board chairman John Tyson in a full-page advertisement published on April 26th in The New York Times, Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. US farmers don't have anywhere to sell their livestock, he said, adding that "millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities."
Tyson Foods, which employs roughly 100,000 workers, closed two pork plants last week so that workers in those facilities could be tested for the virus.
- Institutional food suppliers getting devastated by order reductions
The decision to send students home to resume academics online has drastically impacted Harvard students, families and faculty, but its consequences are not contained by the gates of Harvard Yard. The farms that provide food for the dining halls at Harvard and other colleges across the country face a unique crisis: The large orders they were expecting colleges to make have dissipated.
While a few kitchens remain open to provide for the roughly 450 students still living on campus, the volume of food the dining halls require has drastically decreased. But if that decrease grants Harvard a financial reprieve, it has caused serious financial insecurity for others, especially the local vendors that supply Harvard University Dining Services.
“I’ve laid off almost my entire company,” says Jared Auerbach, the CEO and founder of Red’s Best, a local fish distributor that sells to Harvard. Asked about the possibility of students not returning to campus in the fall, Auerbach says “it would be devastating for us.”
Read more: A Surplus with Few Buyers
- Senior meal delivery demand straining providers’ resources
Westchester County in New York is rapidly expanding its meal delivery services for seniors with about 5,000 seniors receiving one or two meals every day through initiatives overseen by the county, up from about 1,600 before the coronavirus struck, according to Mae Carpenter, who has led the county's Department of Senior Programs and Services since 2001.
Advocates say initiatives to help feed older people while they're confined at home are crucial because across the U.S., some 5.5 million adults 60 or older were food insecure in 2017, according to Feeding America. An earlier report indicates that older adults often faced food-related financial difficulties—about half of households with a member 75 or older had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine.
Officials in Westchester County say the surge in the number of older adults receiving meals, coupled with staff and volunteer shortages, is straining their limited resources. In Yonkers, the National Guard and volunteers from the local fire department are helping to deliver about 2,100 meals weekly, says Kelly Chiarella, who directs the city's aging office. Before the pandemic, they were serving about 800 people per week.
In March, Congress allocated $250 million in emergency funding for meals for older adults—including $160 million for home-delivered meals—and the Older Americans Act, which funds Meals on Wheels and other initiatives, was reauthorized days later. The CARES Act relief package enacted at the end of the month contains additional nutrition aid.
- Restaurant Associates teams with online grocery firm FreshDirect
Online grocery delivery firm FreshDirect is teaming with dining management company Restaurant Associates to sell prepared heat-and-eat meals, bringing some employees back to work. The online grocer stated that “the alliance expands its offerings in the prepared food category, allowing the company to serve more customers with ready-to-eat meals that only require heating...At the same time, the initiative provides employment for Restaurant Associates cooks displaced by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many restaurant and foodservice businesses to temporarily shut down and lay off workers.”
- Food workers to get priority COVID testing in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding has announced that workers supporting the state’s food supply chain, from farmers to grocery store workers, would be eligible for priority COVID-19 testing.
“I support any testing that they can do,” Mayor Jeff Cusat of Hazelton in the state’s northeastern region said. “I welcome any test. The more tests, the more data.”
But the state needs to supply the city with more tests, so more testing can be done locally, he said.
“We are the hardest hit community in the state per capita and we continue to be ignored.” Cusat said.
Lehigh Valley Health Network has two testing sites in Hazleton, but supplies are limited so only people meeting specific criteria can be tested, he said.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]