CENTRAL NEW YORK (WSYR-TV) — Milk, a prominent component in student meals, is at risk of not being served at schools.

Why? There is a nationwide milk carton shortage.

North Syracuse Central School District families received a letter from their district about the carton shortage last week. The letter explains that the district was aware of the shortage, and how it could impact the school’s meal program.

“Our milk suppliers, along with others across the nation, are experiencing a shortage of the half-pint cartons typically used for our school meals. The shortage is expected to last for several months,” read a part of the letter.

Currently, the district is looking for alternative packaging solutions, and their food service staff is working to make sure the students “receive the nutritious school meals they are used to.” One solution is the school will only serve breakfasts that do not require milk.

“Alternative beverage options will be available for all meals. These alternatives will include juice, and all of our cafeterias will have water readily available, along with cups for our students,” said the letter.

On Tuesday, Oct. 31, the New York State Education Department released a list of guidelines schools can follow for the time being.

According to the Education Department, many School Food Authorities (SFAs) are not able to obtain milk in half pints for their school meal programs.

During the emergency period, SFAs are allowed to serve and claim meals by:

  • Pouring milk from larger containers into individual cups,  
  • Offering one type of milk instead of a variety,
  • Offering an alternate form of fluid milk such as low-fat, fat-free, lactose-free or milk reduced-lactose fluid milk
  • As a last resort, do not offer fluid milk altogether.

SFAs are required by the state to notify the Education Department and Office of Child Nutrition if they are unable to serve any form of milk by emailing CN@nysed.gov.

NewsChannel 9 reached out to other schools within the Central New York area, on Monday, Oct. 30, asking what their plan is if they are affected by this shortage.

The Liverpool Central School District said they were able to confirm that they were notified last Friday, Oct. 27, of the carton shortage.

“We have purchased cups to be used when we run out of cartons,” said the district’s Public Information Officer, Meghan Piper.

Tom Colabufo, Central Square’s superintendent confirmed Monday that they are affected too.

In a separate letter to Central Square families, Colabufo wrote, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, our district will be switching over to purchasing gallons of white 1% milk only and pouring individual cups for students…”

On top of this, the district also has a chocolate milk shortage.

“We have a solution until we are able to get the milk cartons and chocolate milk back, which could be as far away as Spring,” explained Colabufo. “We will be having our food service staff pour white milk into cups with the appropriate serving size for our students, and we will only have white milk now until chocolate milk is available again.”

This will go into effect for the Central Square Central School District beginning Monday, Nov. 6.

The list doesn’t end there. Westhill’s superintendent, Steve Dunham told NewsChannel 9 that any district using Upstate Niagara will be impacted.

The company is experiencing an unexpected shortage of half-pint paper cartons from their supplier.

“Unfortunately, this shortage spans nationwide and no other paper carton vendors have any excess capacity to assist in alleviating this issue. They have indicated that the shortage may start this week, but we should see an improvement in supply by early 2024,” said Dunham.

The district is looking to find alternative solutions and is in contact with potential vendors in an effort to shorten the timeframe.

Other schools impacted include the Syracuse City School District and the Fayetteville-Manlius School District.

“I checked in with Food and Nutrition and they said they do anticipate we will be affected at some point but so far, we have not been,” said Mike Henesey, the district’s Public Information Officer.

The Fayetteville-Manlius district’s website said the school is working on a solution to purchase water bottles to replace milk, purchasing a one-month inventory at a time.

“Food Services is also looking into purchasing cups and bulk milk that can be poured and shared with students. This option is more labor-intensive, and cooler space will need to be assessed to store the different-sized milk containers,” said the F-M district.

During this week, cups will be available to students who need them.

There is plenty of milk, don’t worry

From the Dairy Processors association on 11-1-23 “”Dairy processors are working diligently with industry partners to find alternative solutions for serving fresh nutritious milk in schools as well as other institutions like hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons including pouring milk from gallon jugs as well as exploring the possibility of installing milk dispensers. We encourage school food service directors to contact their dairy distributors to strategize a milk delivery system that works best for their district until this packaging issue is resolved.”