Columbia Public Schools Challenge to Preserving Food

Feb 12, 2014

Credit KBIA File Photo

With seven snow days, Columbia Public Schools has already surpassed its allotted limit of six snow days for the 2013-14 school year. For most, a snow day leads to relaxation. For people involved in the transportation and reception of food, it means exactly the opposite.

Their line of communication never ends. The Columbia Public School District has 34 schools to keep track of. That means 34 kitchens that receive food multiple times a week. Depending on what time a snow day is announced, it may be too late to stop a delivery service.

Laina Fullum is the Director of Nutrition Services for Columbia Public Schools. She said the location of the distributor also plays a key role.

“Kohl Wholesale who does the majority of our food, they’re all the way in Quincy, Illinois. They start their route at four in the morning. So if school is called after that point, we are getting a truck whether we want it or not.”

District employees have been working to manage and organize the surplus of food that has accumulated after the snow days.  Fullum said the schools now have two weeks worth of food in their fridge but not enough storage.

Milk will spoil but milk and bread are frequent fresh deliveries. Delicate produce such as cucumbers, leaf lettuce and bananas will all go to waste. The rest of the food is able to last in the school district’s warehouse. The warehouse is managed by just three workers, who shift food from schools, to trucks and eventually to the warehouse.

Grocery trucks deliver to the schools multiple times a week but when school is canceled ahead of time, the deliveries are canceled as well. Menu Maker, a wholesale food distributor located in Jefferson City, deals with the schools at a buy-to-order rate.

The school district sends the distributors monthly estimates, which are then prepared to be shipped on a weekly basis. However, Fullum can cut projected items if inclement weather arises.

For the distribution companies, it’s better to see certain items get canceled instead of full orders. When school isn’t in session, neither are some delivery trucks.

Lance Gorney is the general manager of Menu Maker. He said the weather is problematic but is just one of those things that’s not under his control. Storage and preservation are two things he does have a hand in.

“They harvest apples in Washington (the state), they put them in storage and flush the room with nitrogen to keep them from ripening. For food to spoil it would have to be weeks. On hard fruits like oranges, apples, lemons, and limes it would have to be about four weeks.”

Gorney also said groceries like meat and bread are typically frozen, which means a shelf life of six months or better.

A series of snow days like the one Columbia Public Schools recently experienced mean lost business for Menu Maker.

“We’re a distribution company; if we’re not shipping groceries we’re not making money. So even one day is costly.”

Gorney is optimistic as he thinks the loss is only short-term. He expects to recoup the profit when the schools make up their snow days in June.