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The U.S. food system is under renewed strain as COVID-19’s omicron variant stretches workforces from processing plants to grocery stores, leaving gaps on supermarket shelves. In Arizona, one in 10 processing plant and distribution workers at a major produce company were recently out sick. In Massachusetts, employee illnesses have slowed the flow of fish to supermarkets and restaurants. A grocery chain in the U.S. Southeast had to hire temporary workers after roughly one-third of employees at its distribution centers fell ill.HIGH FERTILIZER PRICES COULD MEAN SMALLER CROPSFood-industry executives and analysts warn that the situation could persist for weeks or months, even as the current wave of COVID-19 infections eases. Recent virus-related absences among workers have added to continuing supply and transportation disruptions, keeping some foods scarce. Whole Foods grocery store worker Tim Owen trims the tops of organic carrots in the produce section of the store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 8, 2012. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)Nearly two years ago, COVID-19 lockdowns drove a surge in grocery buying that cleared store shelves of products such as meat, baking ingredients and paper goods. Now some executives say supply challenges are worse than ever. The lack of workers leaves a broader range of products in short supply, food-industry executives said, with availability sometimes cha …

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