Industry leaders react to new competitive foods regs

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

USDA’s newly released interim rule gives operators another chance to comment on proposed requirements.

We asked a few child nutrition professionals what they thought about the USDA’s interim final rule regarding competitive foods. Here’s what they had to say. If you’ve got something to add, write to editor Becky Schilling at bschilling@cspnet.com.

School Nutrition Association, Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations: We’ve got our annual conference coming up soon and competitive foods will be on the top of the list that we will be talking to members about. We have assembled a taskforce to submit comment on the proposed rules.

In our comments to the USDA on the proposed rules, we asked to try to minimize differences between the standards in the competitive foods and the meal pattern, so that operators wouldn’t be faced with evaluating food based on two diff sets of standards. We have a lot of concerns about that.

Given how complex the regs are, what kind of impact they will have on members’ programs and participation as members are trying to keep up with the meal patterns, we are concerned.

We are glad they offered an interim final rule as opposed to a final regulation. We have another opportunity to talk with USDA and raise some concerns. The taskforce is charged with talking to members about the interim rule and figuring out what’s of greatest concern to the members.

We are very concerned with the timing of these rules and the breakfast regs coming into effect this fall. Members are facing a tremendous amount of changes right now. They are still dealing with lunch standards. Sodium limitations are on horizon. Breakfast is coming into effect. Competitive foods is anther challenge our members have to deal with. That can greatly impact participation and revenue.

Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services, Collier County Public Schools in Florida: We’re already doing pretty much everything in the rules. What I’m not overly impressed with is USDA isn’t policing vending machines in these schools. They are supposed to be off until one hour after lunch. I’ve had photos sent to me of these machines on when they aren’t supposed to be on. If the USDA is going to be successful it needs to start enforcing its own regs and what’s being sold in the schools and when they are on.

Linda Stoll: executive director of food services, Jeffco Public Schools, Golden Colo.: Actually, I do not think they are as bad as they could have been. Jeffco is in a fairly fortunate position. Because of a review done by the Colorado Department of Education in 2008 where we were found to be in violation of the competitive foods regulation (because of vending machines and student stores) food and nutrition services took over the operation of the stores and vending. We have made sure that all foods offered complied with the guidelines from Alliance for a Healthier Generation. We are in the process of analyzing all of the a la carte foods that we currently offer and have found very few that do not work with the new regulations.