Plastic lunch trays becoming obsolete

District saves time, money with disposable versions

Ridgeview Elementary School is the only school that still serves lunch using the five-chambered colored plastic trays many remember from their school days.

Seven years ago, it wasn't rare for a high school student to throw away not only his lunch, but the hard plastic tray it was served on, too. Each time that happened, it cost the district $22.

When Moffat County School District food service supervisor Judy Baker looked at that expense, added in the number of aging and broken dishwashers in the district plus the cost of wages, she determined that it would be cheaper to find a different solution.

She found one that met the needs of all but Ridgeview -- serve lunch on disposable Styrofoam trays.

The cost savings was just too much to overlook, Baker said. A package of 500 disposable trays costs $16 and the district goes through about 2 1/2 packages a week.

Conversely, dishwashers can run about $6,000 each, not including the booster that's needed to get the water as hot as needed or the wages of the person who precleans the trays and then runs them through the machine. There can't be any particles of food on the tray when it goes into the dishwasher, Baker said, because the dishwashers reuse the same water during the entire cycle.

Ridgeview's dishwasher is still working, but it's not in good shape. Baker predicts it won't be long before that school, too, is stocking up on the alternative.

There's also the time savings. Before Styrofoam, lunch workers had to load up all the trays used at East Elementary School, drive them to the high school where they were washed, dried and loaded up to be taken back to the elementary school.

"It took two hours a day just to do those," Baker said.

Baker said she hasn't heard any complaints about the disposable trays. She'd tell complainers, though, that the Styrofoam in the trays she buys lack a key preservative. The Styromfoam is biodegradable.

There are few options for several district schools -- particularly elementary level ones -- whose miniscule kitchens allow for little more than food service, Baker said. In some, it would take a major remodel just to install the three-compartment sink needed for hand-washing.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.

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