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USDA extends deadline for schools to meet second sodium reduction targets


adobestock_108573458_620USDA announced today that schools will have one additional year to meet the second set of sodium reduction targets for school meals, changing the compliance date from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018.  USDA will provide additional technical assistance and schools will continue to receive the 6-cent increased reimbursement rate, which is tied to schools meeting the school lunch standards, as long as schools continue to meet current sodium targets.  Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updated school nutrition standards, over 98 percent of schools have successfully met the first step for sodium reduction for school meals (the first sodium reduction target went into effect July 1, 2014) and are providing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and no trans fat, in addition to healthier snacks and beverages.

The one-year grace period maintains critical sodium reduction efforts to bring school meals within moderate levels of sodium, while providing additional time for schools and food companies for reformulation. The difference between the 2014 and 2017 sodium levels for school lunches is about 300 mg, the amount that could be saved by switching from a commercially-prepared version of baked beans to a USDA Foods version or from tater tots with ketchup to baby carrots with ranch dip.  Many schools and food companies are already meeting the second or third sodium reduction targets.

Sodium reduction is vital for children’s health.  American school-aged kids consume, on average, more than 3,100 mg of sodium per day.  Eating more sodium is associated with increased blood pressure in children and adolescents.  High blood pressure in childhood often leads to high blood pressure in adulthood, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, and risk for premature death.

Given that the last Congress was unable to pass a child nutrition reauthorization bill, USDA’s action will provide some certainty for school food service directors as they plan for the next school year while providing the flexibility for additional time.

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