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USDA releases new professional standards for school foodservice

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released its new rules on professional standards for school foodservice personnel. The rules, one of the mandates of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, take effect July 1.

The new regulations accomplish two things. First, they establish minimum requirements for someone to be hired as a school foodservice director. Second, they set continuing education requirements for all school foodservice staff.

“[These provisions are] intended to ensure that school nutrition professionals that manage and operate the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program have adequate knowledge and training to meet program requirements,” the USDA stated in its release.

“Requiring proper qualifications to serve in child nutrition programs is expected to improve the quality of school meals, reduce errors and enhance program integrity.”

The new hiring requirements are mandated for new foodservice directors only, the USDA clarified. Current directors are “grandfathered in,” and will remain so unless they later take a director’s position in a “local educational agency” (LEA) of a larger size than the one they currently work in.

For the purposes of the new rules, USDA has broken LEAs into three categories: 2,499 students or less, 2,500 to 9,999 students and 10,000 students or more. The larger the LEA, the more stringent the educational requirements.

For example, in the smallest school districts, a director can have as little as a high school diploma, if he or she has at least five years’ experience in school foodservice. For the largest districts, directors will need at least a bachelor’s degree—in any subject—as well as a state-recognized certification in a food-related field such as food and nutrition or food service management.

In addition, in the two smallest LEAs, directors are “strongly encouraged” to pursue the next degree as soon as possible after being hired, e.g., a director with an associate degree should work toward their bachelor’s degree.

In the largest LEAs, director are preferred to have a master’s degree and at least one year management experience in a school nutrition program.

On the training side, directors will be required to earn at least 15 hours continuing education each year. Foodservice managers will need to earn 12 hours per year, and any staff who work at least 20 hours a week are expected to gain 8 annual hours of training.

The School Nutrition Association did not issue a statement concerning the release, other than to announce that the rules had been made final. SNA stated that USDA staff would provide an update on the new standards Monday morning, March 2, during SNA’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

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