The petrol crisis is slowly abating, but some supermarket shelves are still empty. In the wake of Britain's three-day fuel crisis, retailers and producers fear the worst amid reports that it could be weeks before the petrol pumps are stocked and the delivery networks return to normal.

The majority of protestors have now called off their blockades of the country's major oil refineries, saying that their aim was to put pressure on the government and they did not want to lose the sympathies of the public in their demands for a cut in fuel tax. Industry bosses believe however that it could be up to three weeks before the complex logistical operations that keep the food production chain moving have coped with the increased demand from supermarkets and manufacturers.

At the retail end, some supermarkets reported sales figures that jumped 300%, with panicking consumers bulk-buying basic items such as bread and fresh vegetables and bringing forward their weekly shop before their petrol ran out. Budgens spokesman Rod Alexander said, "we are twice as busy as usual today and this is obviously because people are panic-buying." It was a phenomenon that self-perpetuated, with checkouts inundated as people feared that the panic purchases of others would leave no food on the shelves.

Many supermarkets coped with the situation by introducing rationing systems. Tesco in Paddock Wood, near Tunbridge Wells, restricted customers to three loaves of bread each, while Safeway in Oxted said just one, deputy store manager Alan Edwards explaining that suppliers could not keep up with demand: "The two bakeries that supply us could not keep up with what we were selling. If the customers bought what they wanted we would have sold out by 10am this morning."

A spokesman for Sainsbury's commented that some "controls" may need to be introduced, but in the meantime it is prioritising the delivery of essentials and working its in-store bakeries 24 hours a day. He insisted: "We are coping with this situation with a general good availability of stock although there is some variability between stores."

At the manufacture end, the situation is no less desperate. UK food group Geest is one of the biggest suppliers of freshly prepared foods in the country, and has announced that its deliveries are unlikely to reach the supermarkets if fuel supplies are not restored by the weekend. Mark Pullen, the financial director for Geest, commented: "We prepare product every day and deliver every day. There is huge uncertainty."

Until the tankers start moving, the pumps are replenished and the shelves are restocked it will be impossible to gauge the full extent of the impact this weeks fuel crisis has had on the food industry.