Grocery stores are struggling with rising labour and product shortages that experts warn could threaten Canada's food security.
Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, says employee absenteeism due to COVID-19 protocols has hit about 30 per cent across Canada, and rising.
Without access to rapid testing in many provinces, he says workers are repeatedly forced to isolate for a week or more after an exposure to COVID-19.
Sands says if the situation worsens, some grocery stores won't be able to open — threatening food security in rural and remote areas of the country that rely on a sole independent grocer.
Meanwhile, stores are also experiencing a shortage of goods stemming from supply chain issues, including a shortage of truckers, packaging and processing delays and wintry weather.
Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen says grocers rely on "just in time" delivery, meaning even transient issues like inclement weather can cause delays and shortages.
But she says empty shelves at some supermarkets should only be temporary and retailers are exploring all avenues to get products to stores as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, the retail council is also urging shoppers to avoid a repeat of the panic buying seen during the early days of the pandemic.
"If everybody starts hoarding, then we will have shortages," Wasylyshen said.