"Such a worldwide pandemic, if it were to happen, would present challenges unique to nearly any other potential catastrophe," said Mark S. Allen, president and ceo. "The food supply channel is a critical infrastructure in our country and distributors should carefully assess how such an outbreak would affect their business, their customers, their community, and their employees. These guidelines provide distributors with a process to facilitate their company planning and, as a foundation, identify a significant number of challenges that distributors would face during a human flu pandemic."
According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an H5N1 flu pandemic could potentially kill as much as 1% of the world's population or about 65 million people. In the U.S., the CDC says that 90 million people could become infected, resulting in between 200,000 and 1.9 million deaths.
"The concern is that the virus will mutate into a form that will be easily transmissible from human to human."
Jon Eisen, senior vice president of governmental relations, said in an interview with ID Access that the goal of project was to help distributors examine the issues that they are going to face as businesses if a devastating global pandemic strikes. Eisen explained that even though the issue is commonly phrased as bird flu or avian influenza, IFDA decided to focus on a human pandemic because that's what will have the greatest impact on the supply chain and society.
"The bird flu does infect humans. It's a non issue. The concern is that the virus will mutate into a form that will be easily transmissible from human to human and for which humans don't have any natural immunity," Eisen said. "We've tried to break down what is an extremely difficult and large process of planning for extraordinarily unforeseen circumstances into manageable parts."
By posing questions for distributors to consider and answer, Eisen said the guidelines will help companies create their own plans for how to go about their businesses if a pandemic occurs in anywhere in the world. Among the points raised are: How are distributors going to deal with their suppliers, how are they going to make sure that they are going to continue to receive products that they need, how are they going to deal with their customers at a time when, if the pandemic were to occur, we would see dramatic social-altering behavior.
Admitting that IFDA is not in a position to answer many of the questions, Eisen indicated that distributors are going to have to reach their own conclusions based on their own specific operations.
"We're tried to pose some of the questions that distributors need to think about," he said. "One of the things that we do say is that all companies should have a useful catastrophe plan. Anything could happen and Hurricane Katrina is a good example. But a pandemic is unlike any other catastrophe because it will be global rather than local."
"We're tried to pose some of the questions that distributors need to think about."
The report is divided into three sections. The "Overview" provides background material describing how a pandemic could occur, why preparedness is critical, and (1) posits reactions that might arise in the community, (2) actions that might be taken by the government, (3) disruptions that could affect the infrastructure, and (4) the potential impact on distribution companies and their customers.
The second and primary section of the guidelines, "Planning for a Pandemic," defines areas of responsibilities and provides checklists for a company to use as a basis to create its own preparedness plan. It covers the range of areas that would need to be addressed internally and externally. These are broken into task forces with "Centers of Activity" that describe a wide range of actions—from the founding of an emergency response team to cross-training employees for coverage of critical functions that could be in jeopardy from absenteeism due to illness or death.
A third section includes appendices that provide a medical perspective on this threat and additional resources. Three of these appendices contain information from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. These include a "Historical Perspective" on influenza pandemics, the "Current H5N1 Threat / Vaccine Development," and "Current Pandemic Planning." Appendix D supplies a list of additional web accessible resources for information and forms that can be used in creating a preparedness plan.
Planning for a Human Flu Pandemic: Emergency Response Guidelines for Foodservice Distributors can be accessed for free electronically at the association's website, www.ifdaonline.org.