USDA releases Interim Final for Competitive Foods in schools

Proposed snack rule stays mostly the same, with some minor tweaks in yogurt and sodium.

June 27—Today the USDA released the Smart Snack in School, the interim final rule for competitive foods sold in schools. The regulations are, for the most part, the same as the proposed rules, which were released earlier this year. Here’s a recount of the rules, as well as a listing of the differences between the proposed and interim final rules.

A commenting period will be available until 120 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. The final ruling will be made available at some point after that. All regulations in this bill will go into effect July 1, 2014, with the exception of the portable water rule, which goes into effect within 60 days of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register.

This rule affects all foods sold outside of school meals programs on the school campus at any time during the school day (midnight the day before to 30 minutes after the end of the school day. This rule will not affect after-school snacks, activities or programs.). This rule also does not apply to teachers’ lounges, as that is not an area the USDA deems as “accessible by students.”

Exemptions for fundraisers will be determined by the state agency. If the state agency does not set a limit, no exemptions will be granted. This is a new stipulation in the rule. The USDA also says these regs are not to include those fundraisers that include food items that are not intended to be eaten on a school campus (i.e., cookie dough).

To be an allowable, a competitive food must meet the following:

• Be a grain product that contains 50% or more whole grains by weight or have as the first ingredient a whole grain; or
• Have as the first ingredient one of the non-grain major food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein foods (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.); or
• Be a combination food that contains ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; or
• Until June 30, 2016, contain 10% of the Daily Value of a nutrient of public health concern based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) (i.e., calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber). Effective July 1, 2016, this criterion is obsolete and may not be used to qualify as a competitive food; and
• If water is the first ingredient, the second ingredient must be one of the food items above.

Fresh, canned and frozen fruits or vegetables with no added ingredients except water, or in the case of fruit, packed in 100% juice, extra light or light syrup, are exempt. The light syrup aspect is new to this rule. Canned vegetables that contain a small amount of sugar for processing purposes are also exempt.

The following are some of the other aspects of the rule:

Entrées sold a la carte: These are exempt from standards if they are sold the same or next school day in the reimbursable meal. Entrées sold as a competitive food must be offered in the same or smaller portion size as the NSLP/SBP and with the same accompaniments.

Accompaniments: These items, such as cream cheese and salad dressing, must be included in the nutrient profile of the item served. They do not need to be proportioned, as was stated in the original rule.

Sugar-free chewing gum: Is exempt from the standards. This is a new inclusion to the rule.

Sodium: There is a phased-in sodium process for snacks when they are sold a la carte, which is new to this ruling. Sodium content is limited to 230 milligrams per item as packaged or served. On July 1, 2016, that is reduced to 200 milligrams. For entrées sold a la carte, sodium content can be no more than 480 milligrams, unless the item meets the exemption for NSLP/SBP entrée items.

Sugars: An item may have no more than 35% sugar by weight. Exemptions include: dried whole fruits and vegetables; dried whole fruit or vegetable pieces, dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners; dried fruit with nutritive sweeteners that are required for processing and/or palatability purposes.

Additional sugar limits for yogurts were eliminated in this rule. Yogurt must only meet the sugar requirements listed above.

Calories: Snack items and dishes served a la carte must contain no more than 200 calories, including any accompaniments. Entrée items sold a la carte must have no more than 350 calories, unless they meet the NSLP/SBP exemption for entrée items.

Saturated fat: No item may contain more than 10% of total calories from saturated fat as packaged or served. There are some exemptions to this rule. Reduced-fat cheese and part-skim mozzarella cheese (a new addition to this rule), nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters and products containing only dried fruit with nuts and/or seeds with no added nutritive sweeteners or fats are exempt. 

Trans fat: Items must have zero grams of trans fat per item as packaged or served.

Beverages: Elementary and middle school beverages must be caffeine free with exception of naturally occurring trace amounts. The following are the items allowable, by grade:

Elementary: Plain water (carbonated or uncarbonated); low-fat milk (unflavored); nonfat milk (including flavored); nutritionally equivalent milk alternative; full strength fruit or vegetable juices and full strength fruit and vegetables juice diluted with water or carbonated water. All beverages not to exceed 8 ounces, with exception of water, which is unlimited.

Middle school: Plain water (carbonated or uncarbonated); low-fat milk (unflavored) and nonfat milk (including flavored); full strength fruit or vegetable juice and full strength fruit or vegetables juice diluted with water or carbonated water. All beverages no more than 12 ounces, with exception of water, which is unlimited.

High schools: Plain water (carbonated and uncarbonated); low-fat milk (unflavored) nonfat milk (including flavored); nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives; full strength fruit or vegetables juice and full strength fruit and vegetable juice diluted with water or carbonated water. Milk and milk equivalent alternatives and fruit or vegetable juice must be no more than 12 ounces.

High schools can also have calorie-free, flavored and/or carbonated water and other calorie-free beverages that comply with FDA requirement of less than five calories per 8-ounce serving, in no more than a 20-ounce serving. Beverages of up to 40 calories per 8-fluid ounce, in no more than a 12-ounce serving are also allowed. There is no restriction on size of water. Beverages containing caffeine are permitted. Allowable beverages are available in foodservice area and elsewhere without restriction. The time and place restriction for beverages was removed in this rule. 

The following are the nutrition standards for competitive foods (must meet all the proposed competitive food nutrient standards and:

• Be a grain product that contains 50% or more whole grains by weight or have whole grains as first listed ingredients; or
• Have as a first ingredients one of the non-grain major food groups as defined by the 2010 DGA: fruits, vegetables, dairy products, protein foods (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.); or
• Contain 10% of the Daily Value of a naturally occurring nutrient of public health concern from the DGA (calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber) This stipulation is eliminated July 1, 2016; or
• Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit or vegetable

The USDA is asking for comment on the definition of breakfast entrée item. Some want a definition that would allow grain only, whole-grain rich entrees commonly service din SBP like pancakes, bagels and cereals. This would allow for these higher calorie options and would not qualify them under a snack/side item limits.