Possible Milk Carton Shortage Threatens School Lunchrooms in Pennsylvania and Beyond

The small half-pint milk cartons served with school lunches across the country might soon become scarce in some school cafeterias. The issue isn’t a lack of milk but rather the shortage of cardboard cartons used to package and serve it, as noted by dairy industry suppliers and state officials.

Pactiv Evergreen, based in Lake Forest, Ill., which claims to be the primary manufacturer of fresh food and beverage packaging in North America, acknowledged on Friday that it’s facing higher-than-expected demand for its milk cartons. This shortage is affecting its ability to fully meet certain school milk orders, according to Matt Herrick, a spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association.

School officials in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington state are getting ready for this shortage, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has acknowledged that the supply chain issue is affecting multiple states.

In California, state education leaders have advised schools to be flexible in how they offer milk to kids, including limiting milk choices, using boxed shelf-stable milk, and providing milk through bulk dispensers.

This carton shortage could also impact the availability of milk and juice in hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, prompting officials across the country to brainstorm backup plans.

For example, in Clarence, N.Y., local school district leaders informed parents that they plan to provide small bottles of water or milk in cups with lids if the cartons run out.

In Lake Stevens, Wash., located 40 miles from Seattle, there was a shortage of chocolate milk in the recent dairy delivery, as mentioned by Jayme Taylor, director of communications for the local school district. She noted that this was the only complaint they received from students.

While milk is required to be served with school meals, officials with the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service issued a memo last month allowing districts to serve different types or sizes of milk during the supply shortage, or even to skip milk altogether.

The duration of this carton shortage remains uncertain. In Everett, Wash., school leaders informed parents to expect disruptions in cafeteria milk supply that could last for several months.

Herrick mentioned that U.S. milk processors are collaborating with other packaging suppliers to address the shortage, and he anticipates the problem will improve within weeks and be resolved by early next year.


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