Half-pint cartons of milk, served in cafeterias and lunchrooms across America, are ubiquitous on the lunch trays of millions of college students. But in some areas, they will soon disappear.
A nationwide shortage of cartons is hurting the milk industry, according to suppliers and state officials, leaving schools looking for other ways to keep the drink in students’ diets.
Milk is served to millions of children across the country every school day as part of government-subsidized meal and supplement programs. But schools in many states face “milk supply chain challenges,” due to problems with packaging, a recent announcement from the US Department of Agriculture warned. The department advised that schools affected by shortages could temporarily be flexible on whether or not they provide milk with meals.
School districts in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Washington and other states said they are preparing for supply shortages, which are expected to last into early 2024. Hospitals, prisons and other facilities with cafeterias are also likely to be affected.
“We think it will hit within the week,” said Vickie Scroger, the food service manager for Holley Central School District in western New York state. “We’re waiting for them to say we’re out of boxes.” He learned of the impending shortage last week from vendors, he said, and the district sent letters home to inform parents.
But in 26 years, Ms. Schroger said, the shortage of milk cartons has been extreme. “It’s never happened to me,” he said. Instead of serving cartons, they bought milk in bulk and poured it into cups.
To cope, many school districts will also buy milk in bulk and pour it on students. Others said that once the carton milk offer was used, they would serve the milk in lidded cups or they offer students juice the water Instead. In Pennsylvania, a area in Center County said it will provide self-serve milk stations for middle and high school students and distribute it to elementary students.
The Lake Stevens School District in northwest Washington state said Tuesday: “Sometimes we may not have milk during breakfast or lunch. We plan to prioritize milk for breakfast when available.” Among other measures, the district encouraged students to bring their own water bottles.
Milk supplies remain ‘strong’; according to a release from the North East Dairy Farmers’ Association, a group representing the area’s dairy farmers. But dairy processors were looking for solutions to store milk in serving-size containers not only in schools but also in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.