December 16, 2007 12:00am
EVERY Australian household should stockpile at least 10 weeks’ worth of food rations to prepare for a deadly flu pandemic, a panel of leading nutritionists has warned.
World health experts now agree a pandemic is inevitable and will spread rapidly, wiping out up to 7.4 million people globally and triggering rapid food shortages.
Australia is expected to be among the first countries hit because of its proximity to Asia and high levels of international traffic.
But Woolworths and Coles, the nation’s two major supermarket chains, will run out of stock within two to four weeks without a supply chain – or even faster if shoppers panic.
This has prompted a team of leading nutritionists and dietitians from the University of Sydney to compile “food lifeboat” guidelines to cover people’s nutritional needs for at least 10 weeks.
Their advice – published in the Medical Journal of Australia – would allow citizens to stay inside their homes and avoid contact with infected people until a vaccine becomes available.
The lifeboat includes affordable long-life staples such as rice, biscuits, milk powder, Vegemite, canned tuna, chocolate, lentils, Milo and Weet-Bix.
Jennie Brand-Miller, professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney and co-leader of the study, believes it is common sense to stockpile food before a pandemic strikes.
“It’s really not a question of if: it’s a question of when,” she said.
“We are going to have an epidemic. Chances are it will be avian flu (bird flu) but it might be something else.
“It will spread very rapidly just like flu does normally because it’s a highly contagious organism, except this will be a really lethal one. What we suffer from is a false sense of security that someone else is looking after all this.”
While there are emergency plans within governments, hospitals and the food industry, individuals will still need to take personal precautions in a disaster, she said.
The most important message for the Australian public is to avoid going out in public when the pandemic hits, the research found.
“We know that once it becomes a highly transmissable virus it will probably fly around the world within three weeks,” Prof Brand-Miller said.
“We know it’s got all the right conditions to start in Indonesia or Asia and there have already been human transmissions.
* The full food lifeboat guidelines are available at www.foodlifeboat.com.au