First it was toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but now President Donald Trump has taken action to prevent potential food shortages, and it could have an impact on Chicago-area businesses.
Reports of that shortage, spurred on by the closure of several meat packaging facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, caused lines to form around the block at some local markets, including Gepperth’s Market in Lincoln Park.
“People were outside around the block,” owner Otto Demke said. “(You don’t need to) just run out and buy right away. I think that’s the biggest problem we have.”
More than a dozen processing plants across the country have gone dark, including Smithfield Foods’ plant in St. Charles. On Tuesday, Hormel’s Fontinini Foods facility in McCook said it is furloughing 150 employees.
Todd Churchill, co-founder of Blue Nest Beef, fears that there might still be a supply shortage despite the president’s order.
“I think meat supplies are going to be less available in two weeks than they are today,” he said.
The president is hoping to change that with his new order, which declares meat processing plants as “critical infrastructure” in the midst of the pandemic.
The order includes mechanisms for the federal government to send masks and gloves to workers inside of meat processing plants, according to multiple reports.
Safety at the plants, where numerous employees have tested positive for coronavirus, remains a concern.
“We didn’t build meat processing plants with social distancing in mind,” Churchill said. “We built them for efficiency and that means having people standing nearly shoulder to shoulder.”
Until all production facilities resume operations, small family-owned meat shops are left struggling to keep up, and trying not to pass rising costs onto their customers.
“I’m noticing that prices are just continuing to go up, so that’s something we have to be conscious of,” Demke said.