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By Helen Stec

A national egg shortage has erupted as a result of the worst outbreak of avian influenza in U.S. history. Over 48 million birds have been affected since the first detection of bird flu in December, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Nearly 80 percent of birds killed were egg-laying hens.

Since the disease began to spread in April, the wholesale price of eggs in liquid form rose from $0.63 per dozen to over $1.50. In the Northeast, prices for wholesale shell eggs—uncracked eggs still in the shell—jumped as high as $2.55 per dozen in June, up from $1.24 in May.

How is this shortage affecting the University of Connecticut?

“It didn’t really affect us until this summer, but for us, summer isn’t really where the problems would arise. It was really what was going to happen on August 28 for us,” said Michael White, Assistant Director for Residential Operations in Dining Services. “So on about August 25, 24, we found out the original order that we had placed for liquid eggs was not going to be fulfilled at the level that we had wanted.”

According to White, low availability of liquid eggs is the main problem for Dining Services, not the rise in price. Liquid eggs are used in scrambled eggs, omelets, and various other recipes. Dining halls across campus make about 2,000 omelets per day.

White credits Dining Service’s early interest in local products for shielding UConn from the worst of the shortage.

“Unrelated, one of the things that we had started to look at in the last year was increasing our local purchases or our regionally grown product line. Last year around 34 percent of expenditures on food and beverages came from local or regionally grown,” White said.

White said local products are an area that Dining Services is always looking to increase. UConn is currently partnered with Farmer’s Cow, based in Franklin, Connecticut.

“A positive has come out of a negative here, and the positive is we’re using more local eggs. It’s a great egg. It’s a fresh egg,” said Robert Landolphi, manager of culinary development for Dining Services. “The local farmers from Connecticut are ecstatic because, you know, the University of Connecticut is one of the largest users, and it’s just a good product.”

Dining halls will continue using these local shell eggs in their recipes and use liquid eggs when they’re available, though the shortage is not expected to end any time soon.

“From working with our sales rep, who’s kind of tracking the industry, we were talking to him yesterday, and he said he thinks right now they’re saying 12 to 16 months,” Landolphi said.

Farmers are wary about putting birds back into production too soon. If a second round of avian influenza begins to spread, the shortage could start all over again.

White noted that Dining Services frequently handles challenges like this. In 2010, they faced a four-month tomato shortage. While the impacts of the egg shortage are considerably more prevalent because of the eggs’ wide consumption, Dining Services has been making adjustments to accommodate students.

“I’m an alumni. I also get what it’s like to eat in the dining halls. I understand it. It’s an inconvenience right now, but we’re making little adjustments every day so that you’re not losing option because we’re dealing with a bird flu,” White said.

Dining Services gets updates about the shortage on a monthly basis, according to Landolphi, and is always willing to work with students. He said anyone with concerns is welcome to contact him or White.