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USDA releases proposed rule for professional standards for schools

Training and requirements for hiring are addressed in the latest part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The US Department of Agriculture has released professional standards for school nutrition employees, the latest development in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The proposed rule specifies training and requirements for hiring child nutrition professionals from local districts to state agencies. The public has 60 days to comment on this proposed rule.

According to the USDA, this intent of the proposed rule is “to provide consistent, national standards for school nutrition professionals and staff” and ensure that those employees are “meeting professional standards in order to adequately perform the duties and responsibilities of their positions.” These standards are applicable for both self-operated and contract-managed foodservice programs. The hiring standards are not retroactive, but apply to new hires only.

The standards are as follows:

School nutrition program directors

Who does this apply to: These standards apply to those individuals who are directly responsible for the day-to-day operations of school nutrition programs for all participating schools, or the district, under the jurisdiction of the school food authority.

Hiring standards: Beginning July 1, 2015, a new director must have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The area or concentration of that degree depends on the size of the district for which the director is responsible (see below). If a director is responsible for several districts, he/she would be required to meet the standards for the total enrollment of all the students he/she oversees. No prior experience is required for this position. 

Summary of School Nutrition Program Director Proposed Professional Standards by Local Educational Agency Size

Minimum Requirements for DirectorsStudent Enrollment
2,499 or less
Student Enrollment
2,500-9,999
Student Enrollment
10,000-24,999
Student Enrollment
25,000 or more
Minimum Education Standards (required)
(new directors only)

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with academic major or concentration in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business, or a related field.

OR

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with any academic major or area of concentration, and a State-recognized certificate in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, or business;

OR

Associate’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with academic major or concentration in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business, or a related field; and at least one year of relevant school nutrition programs experience;

OR

High school diploma (or GED) and 5 years of relevant experience in school nutrition programs.

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with academic major or concentration in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business, or a related field;

OR

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with any academic major or area of concentration, and a State-recognized certificate in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, or business;

OR

Associate’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with academic major or concentration in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business, or a related field; and at least one year of relevant school nutrition programs experience.

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with academic major or concentration in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business, or a related field;

OR

Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent educational experience, with any academic major or area of concentration, and a State-recognized certificate in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, or business.

Same requirements as for 10,000-24,999
Minimum Education Standards (preferred)
(new directors only)
Directors hired without an associate’s degree are strongly encouraged to work toward attaining associate’s degree upon hiring.Directors hired without a bachelor’s degree strongly encouraged to work toward attaining bachelor’s degree upon hiring.Master’s degree, or willingness to work toward master’s degree, preferred.

At least one year of management experience, preferably in school nutrition, strongly recommended.

At least 3 credit hours at the university level in food service management plus at least 3 credit hours in nutritional sciences at time of hiring strongly preferred.
Master’s degree, or willingness to work toward master’s degree, preferred.

At least one year of management experience, preferably in school nutrition, strongly recommended.

At least 3 credit hours at the university level in food service management plus at least 3 credit hours in nutritional sciences at time of hiring strongly preferred.
Minimum Prior Training Standards
(required)
(new directors only)
At least 8 hours of food safety training is required either 3 years prior to their starting date or completed within 30 days of employee’s starting date.

Regardless of the district’s size, all new directors must have at least eight hours of food safety training within the three years prior to their starting date or they must complete this training within 30 calendar days of the start date. This requirement can be satisfied by providing documentation of training that was completed during a past position or through a food safety course or certificate program.School food authorities in districts with 10,000 students or more are encouraged to seek out individuals who possess or are willing to work toward a master’s degree, as well as individuals who posses at least three credit hours at the university level in foodservice management and at least three credit hours in nutritional sciences at the time of hire.

Continuing education/training: Beginning with the first year of hire or July 1, 2015, whichever is later, each director must complete at least 15 hours of annual continued education/training in topics including administrative practices and other topics determined by Food and Nutrition Services (FNS). This is in addition to the food safety training required in the hiring standards.

State directors

Who does this apply to: Those state agency directors with responsibility for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) who are hired after July 1, 2015.

Hiring standards: New directors would be required to have a bachelor’s degree with an academic major in areas including food and nutrition, foodservice management, dietetics, family and consumer sciences, nutrition education, culinary arts, business or a related field. New state directors would also be required to possess extensive relevant knowledge and experience in areas such as institutional foodservice operations, management, business and/or nutrition education. FNS highly recommends state directors have experience in three or more areas. New state directors should also possess skills needed to lead, manage and supervise.

Continuing education/training: These individuals must complete a minimum of 15 hours of continuing education/training in core areas appropriate to their areas of responsibilities, including nutrition, operations, administration and communications/marketing.

State directors of distributing agencies

Who does this apply to: Those directors responsible for overseeing state food distribution activities authorized to distribute USDA Foods in schools.

Hiring standards: Beginning July 1, 2015, all new state directors of distributing agencies must have a bachelor’s degree in any major or area as well as extensive relevant knowledge and experience in areas such as institutional foodservice operations, management, business and/or nutrition education. They must also possess skills needed to lead, manage and supervise. FNS recommends new hires have at least five years of experience in institutional foodservice operations.

Continuing education/training: These individuals must complete a minimum of 15 hours of continuing education/training in core areas appropriate to their areas of responsibilities, including nutrition, operations, administration and communications/marketing.

School nutrition program managers

Who does this apply to: Those individuals directly responsible for the management of the day-to-day operations of school nutrition programs for participating school(s).

Continuing education/training: Beginning with the first year of hire, each manager must complete at least 12 hours of annual continuing education/training or as otherwise specified by FNS.

School nutrition program staff

Who does this apply to: Those individuals without managerial responsibilities who are involved in routine operations of school nutrition programs for participating school(s). This can include line workers who serve meals, those who prepare meals or those who review free or reduced-price applications.

Continuing education/training: For school nutrition staff (other than the director and managers) who work an average of at least 20 hour per week, staff must complete at least eight hours of continued education/training applicable to their job. While FNS highly encourages those employees who work an average of fewer than 20 hours per week to receive eight hours of training per year, FNS says the continued education/training should be proportional to the number of hours worked. FNS is asking for comments regarding this requirement for part-time staff.

A few other notes on training:

  • Providing training to school nutrition program staff is an allowable use of the nonprofit school foodservice account.
  • The proposed rule excludes as an allowable cost any costs incurred by an individual to meet the educational criteria necessary to be hired as a new school nutrition program director
  • The rule also excludes as an allowable cost any costs associated with obtaining college credit
  • Each school food authority must maintain a recordkeeping system to annually document compliance with the professional standard requirements for all employees

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