Comments to USDA re: Professional Standards for School Nutrition Personnel

April 7, 2014

Julie Brewer
Chief, Policy and Program Development Branch
Child Nutrition Division, Food and Nutrition Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 66874
St. Louis, MO 63166

RE: Professional Standards for State and Local School Nutrition Programs Personnel as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (FNS-2011-0030)

Dear Ms. Brewer,

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the "Academy") appreciates the opportunity to submit comments to the Food and Nutrition Service's (FNS) February 4, 2014 proposed rule establishing minimum professional standards for school nutrition personnel who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. With over 75,000 members comprised of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs),1 dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs), and advanced-degree nutritionists, the Academy is the largest association of food and nutrition professionals in the United States committed to improving the nation's health through food and nutrition across the lifecycle. The Academy's members demonstrate this commitment through direct, caring work in child nutrition programs at the local, state, and national levels; as researchers and educators; as corporate dietitians supplying products or services to school foodservice operations; and as consultants in school nutrition and wellness. We also wish to acknowledge Academy members who serve in the USDA and their positive influence on nutrition policy.

The Academy largely supports the proposed minimum professional standards for school nutrition personnel and offers the following recommendations to FNS prior to finalizing the regulation.

Hiring Standards

The proposed minimum standards for school nutrition personnel — from state directors to school cafeteria workers — establish a significant benchmark of professionalism and qualification. The Academy supports the tiered approach tying more rigorous educational and experiential requirements to larger enrollment sizes of local educational agencies (LEAs). This flexibility accounts for variation in the size and associated needs of LEAs.

In addition, with certain food safety training exceptions noted below, the Academy agrees it is appropriate to grandfather existing personnel to exempt them from new requirements.

The Academy recognizes that FNS is merely proposing minimum standards, and notes that states with existing standards for some personnel may choose to require additional requirements to those proposed here by FNS. The proposed standards are realistic and achievable to implement by July 1, 2015. FNS appropriately specifies (but does not require) specific additional experiential and education requirements to encourage personnel to attain relevant management and school nutrition program experience and formal academic instruction that further enhance the existing professionalism of school nutrition personnel.

FNS asserts that "knowledge of food safety is essential to providing healthful and safe school meals," but proposes that only newly hired directors be required to possess or quickly obtain food safety training. (Emphasis added.) The Academy believes that food safety knowledge is so essential that all school nutrition program directors of all LEA sizes should meet this requirement, whether they are new hires or otherwise grandfathered in as existing personnel. We expect that most directors can already demonstrate they meet this requirement and have experience with HACCP plans2 and certification programs such as ServSafe.

Continuing Education and Training

In addition to the hiring standards requiring personnel to have obtained particular qualifications, it is critical to ensure that those hired and practicing maintain these competencies through annual continuing education. The Academy supports the flexible, non-prescriptive continuing education requirements, but encourages FNS to require periodic food safety training for all directors, managers, and staff rather than merely anticipating that all staff has received it. We encourage FNS to additionally recommend (but not require) trainings to improve the quality, appeal, and palatability of school meals. We also support FNS's application of annual training requirements to all personnel, whether newly hired or grandfathered in under the rule.

We further support FNS's willingness to embrace existing effective training programs and the use of various sources, methods, and technologies to facilitate low-cost, simplified trainings. The Academy generally supports FNS's determination that training hours for staff working less than 20 hours per week should be proportionate to the number of hours worked, but asks that FNS collect and disseminate data of the numbers and/or percentage of staff averaging 20 hours or less per week. If a large percentage of cooks and servers work this reduced number of hours, it may be appropriate to require they meet the requirements for full-time workers to ensure the healthfulness and safety of school meals.

The Academy supports that the proposed rule permits school nutrition program funds to be used to provide training, but notes that many funds have been negatively impacted by reduced reimbursements and substantial administrative reviews. We appreciate FNS's willingness to provide technical assistance to LEAs, which may be particularly beneficial for smaller LEAs with fewer resources.

The Academy appreciates the opportunity to comment on this important initiative and hopes to discuss these recommendations in greater detail in the near future. Please contact either Jeanne Blankenship at 202-775-8277 ext. 6004 or by email at jblankenship@eatright.org or Pepin Tuma at 202-775-8277 ext. 6001 or by email at ptuma@eatright.org with any questions or requests for additional information.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Blankenship, MS, RDN
Vice President, Policy Initiatives and Advocacy

Pepin Andrew Tuma, Esq.
Director, Regulatory Affairs
Vice President, Policy Initiatives and Advocacy


1 The Academy recently approved the optional use of the credential "registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)" by "registered dietitians (RDs)" to more accurately convey who they are and what they do as the nation's food and nutrition experts. The RD and RDN credentials have identical meanings and legal trademark definitions.
2 Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, 7 CFR Parts 210 and 220 [FNS—2008—0033]. School Food Safety Program Based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Principles. Final rule. Federal Register. 2009;74(239):66213-66217.