Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages impacting school cafeterias

From whole wheat bread to plastic silverware, some mainstay items in school cafeterias are now tough to come by
Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 3:07 PM MDT
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TWIN FALLS COUNTY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic have forced some school districts to adjust quickly.

From whole wheat bread to plastic silverware, some mainstay items in school cafeterias are now tough to come by.

“These kids have to have a meal,” said Hansen School District’s Food Services Director Sherry Petersen. “What if I’m not able to prepare that meal for them so that they’re at least getting one meal a day.”

The Twin Falls School District has struggled to secure large quantities of canned fruits and vegetables as well as individually packed condiments.

“It might seem like ‘oh well, you can’t get the right loaf of bread that you need,’” said Twin Falls School District spokesperson Eva Craner. “When you’re talking about serving meals to close to 9,600 students, it’s a big deal when you can’t get the things that you’re wanting to provide for their meals.”

Craner added labor shortages have additionally impacted their cafeterias.

“We’ve had multiple schools where workers have been out for a length of time and they’ve had to make it work in the cafeteria,” said Craner.

That shortage of staff has also impacted their supplies as they have not had the staff available to wash plastic lunch trays at some schools, which has led them to rely on Styrofoam trays. Those Styrofoam lunch trays are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Amidst supply chain disruptions, the price of many commodities has risen. Craner said it is expected the cost of food services in the Twin Falls School District at year’s end will be higher than previously anticipated. She added the district maintains breakfast and lunches will remain free regardless.

Strict nutritional standards are set by the USDA, but a waiver has been granted to some districts, including Twin Falls, that allows them more room to adjust when it comes to substitutions.

“Maybe we planned on serving green beans. That’s what the nutrition analysis recommended,” Craner said. “Maybe we’re doing carrots instead of something to that effect, so there’s little more flexibility there.”

Petersen said it would be impossible to provide lunches had the districts not received these waivers.

“Thank goodness they’ve done that because if they hadn’t, I don’t know what these schools would be doing,” Petersen added.

Petersen said she has been changing lunch menus frequently in order to ensure they coincide with available items. She added despite having worked in food services for 13 years, she has never seen anything like the current shortages.

“Parents’ stress level is really high, which makes ours even higher down here doing what we do every day,” Petersen said. “I’ve had sleepless nights over this.”

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