White House to put up to 5,000 salad bars in schools

Lettuce pray

White House to put up to 5,000
salad bars in schools

by Ed Bruske
18 Nov 2010 7:33 AM
and Food Initiative Coordinator, help kids in the White House kitchen garden
harvest vegetables daydreaming of a salad bar.Photo: Samantha Appleton
First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to announce on Monday a major new
initiative that would place up to 5,000 salad bars in public schools nationwide,
despite uncertainties over how local health inspectors might treat those salad
bars and USDA nutrition-tracking rules that could prove a major impediment.
Officials in the White House, led by chef Sam Kass,
and at the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, have been working to build a
coalition representing the produce industry and Ann Cooper, director of
nutrition services in Boulder, Colo. schools, who recently teamed with Whole Foods to raise $1.4
million from customers to establish a grant program that would place salad bars
in qualifying schools.
Under the initiative expected to be announced on Monday in Florida, where
First Lady Michelle Obama has taken her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood
obesity, Cooper would manage applications for salad bars from the schools along
with distribution of funds to purchase necessary equipment.
One potential obstacle to the program is the refusal of many school districts
to install salad bars for food-safety reasons and because of cumbersome USDA
rules governing the federally subsidized school lunch program that feeds some 31
million U.S. school children every day.
Cooper named three school districts she knows of — Philadelphia, Austin,
Tex., and Montgomery County, Md., — that have already indicated they will not
support salad bars. Concerns have been raised that elementary school children in
particular might be prone to spread disease at salad bars because they are too
short for the standard “sneeze guard” installed on most salad bars, or because
they might use their hands instead of the serving utensils provided.
Cooper, who would not comment on the pending White House announcement, has
dismissed those concerns, saying, “As far as I’ve found out, there are no
documented disease outbreaks from school salad bars. By and large, this is not a
high risk area.”
But schools also are deterred by USDA regulations that require students to
pass by a cash register or “point of sale” station after they have been to the
salad bar to ensure that they have served themselves the correct portions of
fruits and vegetables required under the federal lunch program. In October, the
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services division, which oversees the subsidized meal
program, circulated a memo saying that while it encourages the use of salad bars
in schools, school menu planners must tell students the minimum amounts they
must take from salad bars, cashiers “must be trained to judge accurately the
quantities of self-service items,” and point-of-sale registers “must be
stationed after the salad bar.”
Cooper has previously said USDA rules too often “don’t work on the ground”
and that forcing students to double back and pass a checkpoint after they’ve
been to the salad bar “slows everything down.”
Also, the CDC was trying to determine how local health inspectors might pass
judgment on salad bars scattered across the country and what federal health
requirements they might apply.
In addition to Cooper, the White House initiative participants are said to be
United Fresh Produce Association, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, and
Whole Foods. The recent Whole Foods campaigns raised enough money to pay for
salad bars in 564 schools. Around 570 schools applied for salad bar grants.
Until now, the produce industry has been backing its own campaign to donate
salad bars to schools.
Michelle Obama has embraced more fruit and vegetable consumption as a major
plank in her efforts to improve American diets and combat weight-related
illnesses, especially among children. Kass, who directs the First
Lady’s nutrition efforts, was seen as central to bringing the various salad-bar
interests together and developing a unified effort under the White House
banner.
A reporter for the Washington Post in a previous life, I now tend my “urban
farm” about a mile from the White House in the District of Columbia and teach
kids something I call “food appreciation.” I believe in self-reliance, growing
food close to home and political freedom for the residents of the District of
Columbia. I am currently working to introduce local produce into the D.C. school
system. I write a daily food blog called The Slow Cook.

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