St. Lawrence County schools looking for alternative ways to serve milk in face of carton shortage
BY MATT LINDSEY
North Country This Week
Schools are finding alternative ways to serve milk to St. Lawrence County students due to a national milk carton shortage that’s expected to last into the new year.
Milk is required to be served with school meals, however USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service officials are allowing districts to serve different types or sizes of milk during the supply shortage.“Districts in our region can purchase gallons and half gallons of white and chocolate milk in different fat contents from our vendors,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Central Food Management Assistant Director David Gravlin.
He said district food service managers have placed orders for cups and dispensing supplies so they can hopefully continue to serve milk without any disruptions.
"Our main objective is to ensure students have access to milk, and we will continue to look into other methods of serving milk such as boxed milk, bulk dispensers or different sizes and types of milk ," said Gravlin.
Most schools will shift to serving shelf-stable milk.
Shelf-stable milk is milk that has been pasteurized and packaged a little differently than refrigerated milk in order to extend its shelf life. Shelf-stable, or aseptic, milks are common in other parts of the world but didn’t really catch on stateside until about 30 years ago, mainly because Americans tend to equate refrigeration with freshness.
“Yes, we are purchasing shelf-stable milk, as opposed to refrigerated milk in cartons,” Ogdensburg School Superintendent Kevin Kendall said.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service officials have also stated that schools can skip milk all together during this shortage.
There are no plans to go that route as of now, Kendall said.
At Potsdam Central, they anticipated having enough milk cartons to get them through the next couple of days.
“After that, we'll be placing Igloo Self-Serving Stations around each cafeteria,” PCS Superintendent Jerry Griffin said.
Potsdam will serve milk in the stations for about two weeks.
“After that, we should be able to serve shelf-stable cold milk in cartons until the issue is resolved nationally,” Griffin said.
Milk cartons have run out at Norwood-Norfolk Central.
“We have been diligent in searching for alternatives to the hard-to-get cartoned milk,” NNCS Superintendent James Cruikshank said.
With their milk carton supply exhausted, the school is using Igloo coolers and cups.
“It's not the solution we all want, but it worked today fairly well,” he said.
Long-term, the school is planning to serve shelf-stable milk as well, which comes in a self-serve container, the super said.
“We felt that providing a milk product was better and more nutritious than many alternatives,” Cruikshank said. “We should have this product at some point next week.”
The superintendents seemed to agree that the shortage is expected to be relatively short-term, possibly lasting into early 2024.
“With the holidays and school vacations in November and December, this should be a short-term issue,” Kendall said.
The reason for the shortage is still somewhat of a mystery.
Several superintendents said they were told there was a fire in the milk carton distribution plant, while national stories are reporting production issues with the company that produces the most milk cartons.
“As for the reason for this shortage, I'm not completely sure,” Cruikshank said. “We've heard there was a fire, but I cannot point my finger at any one situation leading to this.
Congresswoman Applauds Schools
“I applaud our Upstate schools that have quickly adapted to serving our students by purchasing milk by the gallon to serve individually to ensure our kids have uninterrupted access to a proper nutritious meal as this milk carton shortage persists,” Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.
“I am deeply concerned about the milk carton shortage that threatens to remove our children’s access at school to nutritious milk essential for their healthy development. Our dairy farmers in Upstate New York and the North Country work hard to produce nutritious dairy products so that our children can access these essential nutrients for their development. The health benefits from diets that include milk are undeniable which is why I cosponsored the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act, legislation that would expand access to whole milk options in schools,” said Stefanik.