By Faith Tarpley
A nationwide egg shortage has the United States’ food service industry scrambling. The crisis is due to the country’s worst bout of avian flu in history, which largely affects egg-laying hens. The flu has swept through at least 15 states this year alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hitting Iowa the hardest. The USDA recently estimated that more than 48 million birds have been infected with the flu and even more have been exposed.
The Delmarva Peninsula is home to some of the most prominent chicken companies in the United States. Perdue Farms and Allen Harim are just two of the many large-scale poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. While this area has not been hit by the avian flu, the threat is genuine.
Washington College has already started to see the affects of the shortage. Don Stanwick, the director of dining at WC, said that the hardboiled eggs were the first product to go. At this point, it appears that will be the only major change in WC’s dining hall. “So far, we have been lucky to have product, though there have been some close calls. “
According to Stanwick, WC is accustomed to working around egg-related issues. “As our standard is to use cage free eggs, getting the whole eggs from suppliers has proven to be slightly challenging at times.”
Because egg supplies constantly fluctuate for WC’s dining services, a plan was already in place to handle loss of product. “If, and I do mean if, we get shorted from our three distributors that we receive eggs from we do have a plan,” said Stanwick. “We will incorporate other morning breakfast action stations, including pancakes, French toast, smoothies and crepes until we can get a supply of eggs.”
Chestertown has also felt the strain the shortage has caused. “The local industry has been hit as well,” said Stanwick. Businesses, such as Rita’s have had to drastically change their system of operations and products offered to acclimate to the hindered market.
Jordan Perez, a Rita’s employee, said that they “lost the ability to make custard around July.” This forced the chain to instead begin selling soft-serve ice cream. To many customers, this is more than business – it’s personal. “People come especially for the custard,” Perez said. “We’ve had people walk away upset because we couldn’t provide any.”
Rita’s released a statement in early July that said, We will bring back our award-winning Frozen Custard as soon as we know that we have access to a sustainable supply of eggs. It may, however, not be until they reopen in March 2016 that custard will return to the menu.
Businesses, especially small business like the majority of restaurants in Chestertown, are also unable to stay consistent with long-standing prices. “You are also starting to see increased breakfast prices as a result of this,” said Stanwick.
The future does hold potential promise regarding the poultry industry, according to Stanwick. “Currently, they are projecting the market to stabilize around the beginning of January 2016, as new flocks will be at the egg laying stage,” he said, though this prediction “could change if other birds become infected.”