Student Well-Being

A Milk Carton Shortage Is Hitting School Lunchrooms Across the Country

By The Associated Press — November 06, 2023 2 min read
Milk cartons are displayed at a high school cafeteria in Los Angeles on May 3, 2011. A shortage of half-pint milk cartons is affecting school meals in cafeterias across the U.S. in 2023. School officials from New York to California are scrambling for backup options after a main supplier of cartons said demand has outstripped supply.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The tiny, half-pint cartons of milk served with millions of school lunches nationwide may soon be scarce in some cafeterias, with districts across the country scrambling to find alternatives.

The problem is not a shortage of milk itself, but the cardboard cartons used to package and serve it, according to dairy industry suppliers and state officials.

Pactiv Evergreen of Lake Forest, Ill., which bills itself as “the leading manufacturer of fresh food and beverage packaging in North America” acknowledged in a statement Friday that it “continues to face significantly higher than projected demand” for its milk cartons.

The shortage is affecting the company’s ability to “fully supply some school milk orders,” according to Matt Herrick, spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association.

School officials in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Washington state said they were preparing for the shortage, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged that the supply chain problem affects “multiple states.”

In California, state education officials told schools to be flexible with how they offer milk to kids, including limiting milk choices; using boxed, shelf-stable milk; and providing milk using bulk dispensers.

The carton shortage — which could also affect milk and juice served in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons — has forced officials across the country to brainstorm backup plans.

In Clarence, N.Y., local school district officials told parents they plan to provide “small bottles of water or cups of milk with lids” if the cartons run out.

In Lake Stevens, Wash., 40 miles from Seattle, chocolate milk was missing from this week’s dairy delivery, said Jayme Taylor, director of communications for the local school district.

“That’s the only complaint we received from students,” she said in an email.

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

It’s not clear how long the carton shortage could last. In Everett, Wash., school officials told parents to expect a disruption in cafeteria milk supply that could “range up to several months.”

Herrick said U.S. milk processors are working with other package suppliers to resolve the shortage. He said he expected the problem to improve within weeks and to be resolved by early next year.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being All Public Schools Can Now Get Free COVID-19 Tests. Here's How
The Education Department is encouraging schools to share the COVID-19 tests with staff, families, and the broader community.
2 min read
COVID-19 antigen home tests indicating a positive result are photographed in New York on April 5, 2023.
COVID-19 antigen home tests indicating a positive result are photographed in New York on April 5, 2023.
Patrick Sison/AP
Student Well-Being Teletherapy Challenges: Schools Share How to Navigate Mental Health Support
Schools need to invest in the right ingredients to make their teletherapy sessions useful for students.
7 min read
A tele-therapy session at Kershaw County School District in Kershaw County, South Carolina.
A teletherapy session at the Kershaw County school district in South Carolina.
Courtesy of Presence
Student Well-Being Q&A What Is Driving Youth Mental Health Problems? It's Not Just About Social Media
Focusing too much on one potential cause of the youth mental health crisis could backfire.
3 min read
Teenage girl looking at smart phone
Student Well-Being What the Research Says CDC: Child, Teen Suicide Rates Fell in 2022
While adult suicide rates are still climbing, those for school- and college-age Americans dropped.
2 min read
conceptual illustration of an umbrella opening clear skies in a storm
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty