Staff shortages across the nation have hit the food industry hard, but shortages have not been picky with which food workers it has affected. As in-person learning has returned, school cafeteria workers are working overtime to keep up.
Along with staffing issues affecting the hours that cafeteria workers have been putting in, supply-chain problems are also affecting schools' food supplies.
The issue has been brought to the state's attention as Minnesota Assistant State Education Commissioner Daron Korte shared what is being done to help ease the struggle.
Korte shared that the issue is not Minnesota-specific as most nationwide are running into the same problems.
"It's a nationwide issue, so it's not unique to Minnesota, but we're definitely feeling it here in terms of food shortages, you know, having vendors with substitutions and outages too," Korte said.
In Philadelphia, the principal of S. Weir Mitchell Elementary, Stephanie Andrewlevich, purchased pizza for her students after staff shortages resulted in the school district not providing food for her students and the cafeteria staff not showing up for work.
Despite Andrewlevich's heads-up thinking, some of the pizzas showed up later in the day, and some after students were dismissed, meaning groups of kids went hungry.
The issue isn't being ignored, however, as the USDA is attempting to help.
Korte shared that one step it is doing is relaxing federal regulations on required serving sizes for fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while also easing restrictions on limiting sodium content.
"We think all of that is important, and it's all based on science and teaching your kids on how to have healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives," Korte said. "But you know, in an emergency like this, I think the USDA has understood that we need to have flexibility around those restrictions."
Korte also acknowledged that the issue is spreading from food to other products, leaving the possibility for more hurdles to come in the future.
"It's not just specific to food, I would say as well," Korte said. "We are also starting to see it with things like paper products, compostable utensils, bottled water, and other things like that."