…USDA Foods are a healthy food choice.
USDA continually explores better ways to offer healthy food choices so that schools can serve meals consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid food guidance system. USDA Foods are available in a variety of convenient products that are safe, wholesome, and 100 percent American grown.
…USDA Foods are available to any school that participates in a USDA school meal program.
USDA Foods account for 15 to 20 percent of school nutrition program food. The remaining 80 to 85 percent of food is selected and bought by schools or State agencies from commercial suppliers. USDA Foods also go to numerous household nutrition assistance programs and the Summer Food Service Program.
…USDA sets high food safety standards.
The foods USDA buys for its nutrition assistance programs must meet safety standards set by Federal regulatory agencies and USDA’s two purchasing agencies – the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Farm Service Agency. At USDA, food safety is taken very seriously and standards are set high because of the vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, participating in USDA’s nutrition assistance programs.
Improvements to USDA’s Foods are keeping pace with current nutrition and health advancements:
More fruits and vegetables: USDA pioneered a partnership with the Department of Defense’s Supply Center in Philadelphia to buy more than 60 types of fresh fruits and vegetables for schools. These purchases increased from $4 million in School Year 1995 to over $50 million in the 2008 school year. This is in addition to more than $8 million of fresh items that USDA now obtains for schools each year. Besides fresh produce, USDA also buys over $180 million of canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables for schools. The 2008 Farm Bill provided an additional $90 million to purchase even more fruits and vegetables for school meals in the 2009 school year, with funding to increase each year.
More whole grains: In addition to whole-grain foods such as brown rice, rolled oats, whole wheat flour, whole-grain dry kernel corn, and parboiled brown rice, USDA is now buying whole-grain rotini, spaghetti, and macaroni.
Less sodium (salt): In School Year 2010 the sodium levels in all USDA canned vegetables are being reduced to 140 milligrams (mg) per serving. This greatly exceeds the Food and Drug Administration’s “healthy” standard for sodium, which is 480 mg per serving. Providing low sodium USDA vegetables to schools helps them lower the sodium levels in their menus. Schools continue to have the option to order salt-free frozen vegetables, as well.
Less sugar: USDA canned fruits must be packed in light syrup, water, or natural juices. Despite the common industry practice of packing in heavy syrup, USDA has not purchased fruit in heavy syrup in nearly 20 years. Unsweetened applesauce became available to schools in the 2008 school year.