Power outages spur food changes for schools
Milk is only good for so long.
Kanawha County school officials experienced that firsthand last week after Superstorm Sandy caused extended power outages in some facilities.
"At least half of the county lost all milk that was on hand," said Diane Miller, nutrition director for the county.
As county maintenance and facility workers worked to do what they could to help get schools up and running, Miller said she and her staff had to ship old food out and new food in. Most schools receive two food deliveries a week, and Miller said she likes to have a two-day supply of food on hand in every school's freezer just in case.
That created a problem as outages lingered, she said: Schools that never lost power had way too much food, and those that did lose power didn't have enough when the power was restored. Food in freezers lasts longer than food in refrigerators when the power is out, but Miller said as days went by, it was better to be safe than sorry.
"When in doubt, throw it out," Miller said.
She hasn't had time to tabulate invoices from the additional deliveries yet, so she wasn't certain exactly how much was lost.
To Miller's knowledge Kanawha County does not have a policy for what to do with food in the event of an extended power outage. She said she's working on one now and already has enacted several changes she thought would be beneficial.
Food providers now are included in the county's emergency notification system, Miller said. Right now parents and others involved with the system receive a message when there is a school closure.
In the past, providers didn't receive this message, so they would make unneeded trips or deliver food to schools without students.
"They're on the notification system now. If there are water issues, electrical issues, whatever the case may be, they're going (to know)," Miller said. "They may even know we have no power before we know we have no power."
There were also issues with delivery personnel not having access to schools. In the past, if a provider wanted to make a delivery during a time when a school's cooks weren't normally at school, they would have to pay those employees overtime, Miller said. Now delivery drivers have pass-card access to kitchens: they can make a delivery and cooks can check the inventory when they come to work, Miller said.
The changes should help increase efficiency and save the county money, she said. In this event Miller said her staff did a good job coordinating shipments and removing bad food.
In the case of another delay, the changes already in place and a new policy will definitely help.
"Pass cards and backup (food) for us will ensure if another kind of disaster storm hits the area that we're ready and prepared," Miller said.
All Kanawha County students returned to regular meals Monday, she said.
Superintendents throughout the state told the Daily Mail last week they experienced similar food issues due to lost power.