It has always been noted on school menus that they are subject to change, and the West Carrollton School district anticipates changes will happen this year with little or no notice. The district, along with school districts across the country, is experiencing difficulty ordering products to serve students breakfast and lunch.
The school district participates in the EPC cooperative food purchasing program with other area districts to purchase not only food, but also milk, juice and paper products. Being part of the EPC means participating districts can get better pricing; however, the price of many products has doubled and tripled over last year. There is also an issue with receiving products. Tina Pett, West Carrollton Food Service Supervisor, stated, “Many of the items we normally order have been discontinued, or we make an order and items don’t arrive.”
“It’s been a domino effect,” said Pett. “Milk may be available, but the manufacturer of the milk cartons may not be able to get paper.” Vendors the EPC works with have advised that along with product shortages and unavailability, prices will likely continue to increase. Some vendors have chosen to no longer work with schools because of the low profit margin and their own difficulties getting products to distribute.
The break in the supply chain is partially due to lack of staffing. Correspondence from the EPC stated, “Farmers, truckers, packers, manufacturers, distributors, and ultimately many schools will struggle with short staffing. Combined with a litany of other COVID-related issues, there will be intense pressure on all levels of the supply chain nationwide. Through no fault of their own, your school food service staff will experience significant product availability issues.”
Despite these challenges, school districts are still expected to meet federal Nutrition Standards for School Meals
or risk losing funding. District supervisors create menus to meet the guidelines, but when items aren’t available or aren’t delivered, food service supervisors find themselves scrambling to find either a similar menu item replacement or, in many cases, any
replacement. The School Nutrition Association has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for some flexibility in requirements this school year, but there have not yet been any changes.
Pett has found herself shopping local wholesale warehouses trying to find products she can’t find through her usual suppliers, and she has ended up empty handed. She noted that not only are school districts forced to compete with each other to find large container items, restaurants are also vying to buy in bulk.
“We are doing whatever we can to feed our kids,” said Pett, “but we are struggling.”