USDA grants schools leniency with food regulations for pasta

School foodservice programs can continue serving enriched pastas after USDA backtracks on element of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—School foodservice departments will not have to offer whole grain-rich pastas this fall, following a reprieve from the USDA, which today announced the food regulations change following feedback from districts that whole grain-rich pastas currently available on the market do no hold together well when produced in the large quantities needed for school cafeterias. Districts now can serve traditional enriched pasta products for up to two more years, if they obtain approval from their state agency by demonstrating that they experienced significant challenges in preparing and serving whole grain-rich pasta products in their schools.

Beginning this fall, all grains and breads in school meal programs were to be "whole grain-rich" to meet food regulations, meaning that they contain at least 50% whole grain meal and/or flour. With the announcement today, pastas are now exempt.

Here's what the USDA said in a release announcing the rule change:

"Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools," said Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. "We continue to listen and work closely with schools and parents to implement common sense nutritional guidance that supports a healthier next generation. But, with one third of American children fighting obesity, we cannot accept politically motivated efforts to undermine standards and deny kids healthier options."

Many types of pasta, including those available through USDA Foods, meet the whole grain-rich criteria. However, during the current school year, USDA heard feedback from some schools suggesting that certain whole grain-rich pastas raised a challenge for school menus. Some of the available products, such as lasagna and elbow noodles, degraded easily during preparation and service and were difficult to use in larger-scale cooking operations. Additional consultations with both schools and pasta industry experts confirmed this challenge.

Whole grain-rich pastas made from blends of whole grain and enriched flours maintain better consistency, but these products are still emerging in the marketplace. Therefore, USDA recognizes that USDA Foods and industry may need additional time to develop a range of acceptable whole grain-rich pastas to meet food regulations. As such, USDA is offering flexibility in this area for those districts serving menu items with whole grain-rich pastas that do not hold together well.

USDA is committed to working in partnership with food manufactures as they continue their efforts to expand the selection of appealing whole grain-rich pastas available to schools. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will also continue to assist state agencies and school districts by developing technical resources to assist schools with preparation methods for whole grain-rich pasta.