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USDA Highlights Low-fat Dairy in Competitive Foods Proposed Rule

Feb 06, 2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled last Friday the long-awaited proposed rule on competitive food options in schools, which will set new national standards for the food and beverages offered in a la carte lines, snack bars and vending machines. IDFA commended the department for its efforts to encourage students to consume the daily recommended requirements of milk and dairy as part of the “Smart Snacks in Schools."

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, beyond the federally supported school meals programs. The proposed rule draws on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, and healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.

Dairy Reformulations Add Options

“We applaud USDA for highlighting the importance of dairy in children's diets,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO. “The dairy industry has worked diligently to reformulate the foods and snacks that kids enjoy, including flavored milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, to provide more options in schools.”

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register this week. In brief, IDFA has  summarized the rule's expected impact on milk and dairy products sold outside the school lunch line.

  • Milk. The rule will allow low-fat and fat-free unflavored milk and fat-free flavored milk – the same options available in school meals – to be sold in all schools, with sizes up to 12 ounces for middle and high schools.
  • Yogurt. The rule proposes a higher level of total sugars for yogurts, up to 30 grams for eight ounces, so a number of low-fat and fat-free yogurts will meet the new standards.
  • Cheese. Reduced-fat cheeses will be exempt from the overall fat limits, so lower-sodium versions of reduced-fat cheeses will meet the new standards. It's not clear, however, if "part skim" will be included in the "reduced-fat" category.
  • Ice cream and frozen desserts. The sugar limit has been proposed two ways for the comment period, so it's unclear how frozen desserts will fare. If the rule maintains the "35 percent sugar by weight" measurement, many ice creams and frozen desserts specially formulated for schools would meet the new requirement. If USDA decides to follow a "35 percent sugar by calories" measurement, very few ice creams or frozen desserts would be allowed.
  • Entrees containing dairy ingredients. Entrees would have different rules, depending on whether they are also served as part of the reimbursable school meals. For entrees that are not served as part of meals, the items would need to meet certain fat, sodium, sugar and calorie limits. For entrees that are part of school meals, USDA is considering two approaches: allow the entrees to be sold any time as long as they meet the rule's fat and sugar standards, or allow the entrees to be sold with no nutrient restrictions within four days of the entrée also being served as part of a reimbursable meal. The second option would keep the a la carte entrée from exceeding the weekly calorie, fat and sodium restrictions for reimbursable meals.

The proposed requirements will affect all foods that are sold on campus during the school day. Foods sold at an after-school sporting event or other activity will not be subject to these requirements.

Also, the rule establishes minimum requirements for schools, allowing states and schools with stronger standards to maintain their own policies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a report that analyzed state policies for food and beverages served outside the school lunch line, which said 39 states already have a state law, regulation or policy related to the sale or availability of snack foods and beverages in schools. In many cases, district and school policies and practices exceeded the state requirements.

To ensure that schools and vendors will have adequate time to adapt, USDA said the standards will not go into effect until at least one full school year after public comment is considered and an implementing rule is published.

IDFA will submit comments during the 60-day comment period. Members with questions or concerns may contact Michelle Matto, IDFA consultant on nutrition and labeling, at


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