On June 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an interim final rule, setting new standards for foods and beverages that can be sold in schools. The interim final rule requires schools to improve the nutritional quality of foods offered for sale to students outside of the federal school lunch and breakfast programs. The new standards also apply to foods sold à la carte in school stores, snack bars, or vending machines. The rule sets stricter standards for the amount of fat, sodium, and sugar that can be contained in snack foods that are sold to students. The majority of the provisions in the rule must be implemented beginning July 1, 2014. However, the interim final rule does provide a special exemption for items that are sold during certain school-sponsored fundraisers.
The new rule outlines eligible beverages for elementary, middle, and high school students. Overall, allowable beverages for students are limited to:
- Plain water (carbonated or uncarbonated);
- Lowfat milk (unflavored) and nonfat milk (including flavored), and nutritionally equivalent milk alternatives (as permitted by the school meal requirements); and
- Full-strength fruit or vegetable juices and full-strength fruit and vegetable juice that is diluted with water or carbonated water.
For elementary students, all beverages must be no more than 8 ounces, with the exception of water, which is unlimited. For middle school students, all beverages must be no more than 12 ounces, with the same exception for water. Additionally, for elementary and middle schools, foods and beverages must be caffeine-free, with the exception of naturally occurring trace amounts.
For high school students, milk and milk-equivalent alternatives, as well as fruit or vegetable juice, must be no more than 12 ounces. Also allowed in high schools are calorie-free, flavored and/or carbonated water, and other calorie-free beverages that comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement of less than 5 calories per 8 ounce serving (or less than, or equal to, 10 calories per 20 fluid ounces), in no more than 20 ounce servings. Additionally, beverages containing caffeine are permitted in high schools.
The new rule also sets standards for total sugar content in certain foods and snack items. Under the rule, total sugar must be no more than 35% by weight. Exemptions to the sugar standard are provided for dried whole fruits or vegetables; dried whole fruit or vegetable pieces; dehydrated fruits or vegetables with no added nutritive sweeteners; and dried fruits with nutritive sweeteners that are required for processing and/or palatability purposes.
To view a chart summarizing all the food and beverage changes, click here. To view a summary only of the new beverage standards, click here.