There is plenty of food.
That’s the simple message from South Carolina Department of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers. He hopes it will reassure people all over the state, as empty shelves at grocery stores and certain limitations in food supplies have raised concerns over the food supply chain’s durability amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’ve been hearing those concerns on the media and on social media,” Weathers said during a weekly public address. “Folks see some empty retail shelves, which might from time to time show that impact, but there’s a truckload of something coming pretty quickly to replace it.”
Weathers said the Department of Agriculture is checking regularly with farmers, transporters and wholesalers across the country to ensure not only that the food supply chain is operating smoothly, but that any information being released to the public is “absolutely accurate.”
“We know that’s our role as communicator,” Weathers said. “We’ve reached out to farmers, grocery stores and other industry partners, and we have no concerns about their ability to continue supplying for to us all.” He added that domestic transportation and shipping is well adapted to handle increased demand.
The department itself has closed all facilities for the foreseeable future, with all events canceled until May 10 or later. But state farmers markets will remain open during the outbreak, including Greenville State Farmers Market at 1354 Rutherford Road.
With regard to food safety, Weathers said the department is not aware of any evidence suggesting COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.
“We have folks who process poultry and things like that, so we’re always concerned about a clean environment,” Weathers said. “We focus on food safety [and] germ-free environments for all our food to be processed, and right now the key is the safety of our workers as well as consumers.”
Still, Weathers said consumers should follow good hygiene practices, such as washing hands and surfaces often when preparing food.
Locally, grocery stores in Greenville are seeing traffic ease somewhat after the mad rush that came during the first week of widespread social distancing.
Mary Walsh, owner of Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, said things are returning somewhat to a sense of normalcy.
“That first week, people got scared and stocked up on everything,” Walsh said. “Things are beginning to settle down a bit.”