Shipping Problems Cause Food Shortages at Overseas Commissaries

Many shelves at the Kadena Air Force Base Commissary in Okinawa, Japan were bare, as shown in this Jan. 5 photo, as the commissary experiences shipping and stocking problems worldwide. (Facebook)
Many shelves at the Kadena Air Force Base Commissary in Okinawa, Japan were bare, as shown in this Jan. 5 photo, as the commissary experiences shipping and stocking problems worldwide. (Facebook)

Multiple shipment problems have left many shelves at overseas commissaries bare as Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) officials scramble to get items delivered and restocked.

Military family members started complaining on the agency's Facebook page early this month that shelves at their local commissaries are almost completely empty. And while store managers had posted "out of stock" signs in those areas, patrons posting on the agency's Facebook page said no specific reasons were given for the lack of stock.

Shortages in Europe and Pacific commissaries are to blame on a combination of a labor dispute at docks on the U.S. west coast, a broken down container ship, bad weather in Europe, holiday port shutdowns and a series of system failures at Customs throughout Europe and at a DeCA facility in Germany, officials said.

"Several factors have caused our overseas stores to fall short of what's required to serve our patrons there," Joseph Jeu, DeCA's director and CEO said in a statement. "We are doing everything possible - increasing our product re-orders, looking for additional approved local sources and examining alternative shipping methods - to find solutions to these problems and ensure that products are available for our customers wherever they shop."

Patrons posted photos on the DeCA Facebook page of empty shelves in Korea, England, Japan, and Germany.

The commissary, which costs taxpayers $1.3 billion per year to operate, sends products overseas by cargo ship. Perishable items, such as bagged salads, are often air lifted to stores. The shipping problem in Europe, officials said, impacted cold storage items, such as frozen food, officials said. In the Pacific, chilled products such as yogurt, butter, fresh bone-in meat and fresh pork have been impacted, they said.

The issues at commissaries in Europe have been fixed and products should be more available no later than Jan. 14, officials said.

At Pacific stores, however, problems are likely to continue, they said.

"The challenges to supplying our stores in the Pacific are ongoing, and with continued West Coast port delays, we cannot determine when cargo movement patterns will return to normal," Kevin Robinson, a DeCA spokesman said.

Problems with shipments to the Pacific-area stores began in November thanks to the labor dispute, officials said, and patrons likely started noticing the shortages in December. In Germany, the problem came to a head Dec. 22, they said.

"I have been stationed at Spanhdahlem, Germany for three years now. There have always been off and on issues with basics being in stock. This past month, however, it has been ridiculous. Weeks without salt for German dishwashers, Danish eggs and milk out of stock or rancid by [the] time we are able to purchase it," Erika Polley posted to the DeCA page. "It's ridiculous."

"Today the shelves were out of some of the most basic items," Leigh Nicole, an Army spouse in Okinawa Japan posted along with a photo of bare shelves in the dairy section. "I live off base and drive 30 minutes once a week to this commissary as many other must do as well."

Patrons started a petition Jan. 5 asking the White House to take action on stocking overseas commissaries.

"There is an ongoing issue in the overseas DeCA program," it says. "I am writing this petition as something needs to be done to ensure these military families who are serving in these locations are getting the essentials they need for sustainment."

The petition currently has about 1,900 signatures.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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