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Rice Shortage Hits San Francisco

A global rice shortage that has forced China and Vietnam to curb overseas sales of the food staple has reached the San Francisco Bay Area, home of one of the largest concentrations of Asian-Americans in the U.S. Stores, restaurants and food banks report dwindling supplies, and retail prices are rising.

Buying Restrictions

A Costco Wholesale Corp. store in San Francisco this week limited rice purchases to five bags per customer. Later in the week, on April 23, the outlet reduced that number to two.

Restaurant Depot, a wholesale company that supplies San Francisco restaurants, is limiting rice purchases to 10 bags a customer, said Thanh Pham, a manager at its San Jose location. ``Every single type of rice is gone right now,'' Pham said.

Social Unrest

The record prices of rice, wheat, corn and soybeans this year have spurred social unrest in Haiti, Egypt and other countries. The higher commodities prices are also pushing up U.S. food prices and spurring inflation. The consumer price index climbed 0.3 percent in March, after no change in the prior month, the Labor Department said April 16.

Limits on rice purchases will be felt the most in California and Texas, which have large Asian and Mexican populations whose diets rely on rice, said food consultant Jim Degen, principal of J.M. Degen & Co. in Templeton, California.

About 32 percent of San Francisco's 744,000 people are of Asian ancestry, and 14 percent are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Charitable Groups

The shortage is affecting Bay Area charitable organizations, who say the number of people seeking meals has increased just as supplies are tightening. The San Francisco Food Bank will distribute some rice from recently received truckloads it agreed to purchase last year, though the price volatility means future stocks could decrease.

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