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Latest national shortage: school lunch food

The labor shortage has affected every line of the supply chain of food for schools. Many districts are running out of certain items, or changing plans last minute.

MICHIGAN, USA — Students are back in school, but their lunch menu may be offering fewer items this year. 

That is due to issues along the supply chain, coming back to labor shortages on nearly every level. 

"There are labor shortages at the manufacturer level, even down to the packaging," said Diane Golzynski, director of the Office of Health and Nutrition at the Michigan Department of Education, "It's difficult to get the packaging to put the food in. It's difficult to move the food from the manufacturer to the warehouse and then move it around within the warehouse. And then, it's difficult to get it to the school and having enough staff at the school to be able to prepare it and serve it to the children."

This means some districts will be offering fewer options for entrees, or have to change menus last minute. Golzynski said this is affecting every single district in the state, as well as across the country -- although it may affect them differently. 

Larger, urban districts may not receive enough of an item, whereas a rural district may not have someone to deliver the order. 

"We're recommending that all schools have a backup plan," said Golzynski, "They have some product in their store room, in their refrigerator, or their freezer, that they can pull out at a moment's notice should their shipment not arrive that they are expecting."

She said it is unknown when these issues will subside. However, the department is hopeful it may ease a little with more Americans returning to work and COVID-19 vaccinations increasing. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Montague Schools food service director is working with local food producers to supply the district.

This issue is affecting West Michigan districts. At Montague Area Public Schools, food service director Dan Gorman said it has been a challenge this year, as they made menus ahead of time and placing orders, but the food will not be available. 

"We had a fan favorite here in Montague for our high school and middle school kids, which is chili chicken crispitos," said Gorman, "And we were notified, really like five days before school started, that Tyson was not going to make them this year because it's too time consuming and too labor intensive."

Gorman has started getting creative to meet the food needs of the district. He reached out to La Fiesta, a tortilla manufacturer in Muskegon County. They will be supplying the tortilla chips for the district this year. Goobers Bakery in Muskegon will take care of buns.

"So, we're taking those little pieces where we can," said Gorman, "And get those local sources that we can say, yep, we know this is going to be consistent, and it's not going to be an issue with us."

Both Gorman and Golzynski asked for parents and students to have some patience and grace during this time. 

"Other challenges that they're facing are assuring that they are having a well balanced and well rounded meal," said Golzynski, "But also, kid acceptance. Do the students understand why those products have not been available? And even maybe more importantly, to the parents understand? Are the parents blaming food service? Do they understand that food service are ordering these items, and these items aren't arriving?"

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