As this issue goes to press, the food industry is less than two months removed from one of its largest annual gatherings--the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT, Chicago) Show in New Orleans. That city, as this is being written, is three days removed from Hurricane Katrina, the category 4 storm that hit the Gulf Coast area of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with winds in excess of 130 miles per hour and a storm surge of well over 25 feet.

Relief has begun to pour into the areas, and the region already has promises of donations from food and beverage companies large and small. All is much needed and will be enormously appreciated but, looking ahead, these efforts cannot be a short-term endeavor. More than a quarter of a million New Orleans residents have been displaced into shelters around the country and are expected to remain there for a minimum of four months. In Mississippi, the rebuilding effort will not be completed quickly. After Hurricane Camille struck Biloxi, Miss., and surrounding areas in 1969, it took more than a decade for the area to rebound economically. Katrina appears to have been more destructive than even that legendary storm, and its economic impact is still being calculated.

New Orleans is closed at present, save for relief workers; buildings along the Mississippi coast simply are not there anymore. Workers in the shrimp and oyster industries call the coast home; many of those personnel have yet even to find their watercraft, meaning supply of those foods is sure to dwindle. In addition, New Orleans is one of the nation's busiest ports, and shipments both in and out will have to be sent to other locations around the country; while the materials will arrive, their shipment could tax already-stressed means of delivery, especially considering rising fuel costs. Katrina has not helped with that latter problem, either: at last count, some 60 oil rigs had been damaged by the storm, and only two of Louisiana's oil refineries were back in operation. So-called “soft” costs continue to become a harder problem.

Will the area rebound? Certainly, but it will take significant time. Still, knowing the Crescent City and its residents, New Orleans will be well prepared for its scheduled hosting of the 2008 IFT Show. Getting to that point, however, is going to be a difficult road--one that will need support and aid long after television news crews have left.