Trade associations took part in a two-day desk-based exercise last week to simulate the impact a flu pandemic would have on the food industry.

Staff were asked to man their office phones during a scenario in which the pandemic had broken out all over the world, with 100,000 cases reported in the UK.

The situation envisaged the food industry being hit by a 40% absenteeism rate, with peaks of 80% in some cases, and the closure of all schools.

The BRC, the FDF and Dairy UK were among the bodies taking part in the exercise, which was organised by the Department of Health with support from Defra. During the simulation, Dairy UK told Defra such a crisis would mean it was essential to ration food and lift the restrictions on drivers' hours as the industry tried to cope with the widespread closure of processing plants, the disruption of packaging supplies and animal welfare problems.

"The exercise was useful for us to test our systems in an imaginary situation to detect any deficiencies," said Dairy UK technical director Ed Komorowski. "But I'm sure that any real-life situation would be different from the exercise."

The DoH said it would be updating its procedures following the exercise.