By Sharon Schaefer, SNS 2017-11-06 11:31:50
Earn 1 CEU in the designated Key area and Key Topic Code noted above Cafeteria share tables offer many benefits for handling unconsumed menu items, but they need to be carefully managed. As adults, most of us spend a good amount of time teaching children a variety of caring behaviors. This extends, of course, to our interactions with students in the school cafeteria, too. We try to teach youngsters manners, respect, friendliness, courtesy, kindness and generosity. One of the best ways to encourage this last trait is to establish a “share table.” The simple gesture of giving, of passing an item from one person to another, is inherently human. But when food is involved—especially menu items served through the federal school meal programs—this example of basic altruism isn’t quite so straightforward. The concept is simple: Certain food and beverage items that would have been discarded by student customers are, instead, safely placed aside and made available to someone else. But for many good, practical reasons, a cafeteria share table cannot be an informal or spontaneous method of demonstrating charity or generosity—or of showcasing the value of reducing waste. Share tables must be managed; they require structure, standard operating procedures (SOPs), clear communication, supervision and oversight to ensure safety. Fortunately, the work involved in setting up and maintaining cafeteria share tables is nicely balanced with several rewards. In addition to teaching children important values, share tables do help to reduce waste otherwise relegated to the landfill. Likewise, they help to increase consumption of your meals, especially of nutrient-rich menu items, such as fruits, vegetables and grains. Share tables also benefit those who struggle the most with hunger. Can you imagine not jumping at the chance to accomplish those goals? Here’s the lowdown on how to SHARE like a pro and successfully set up your TABLES. SUSTAINABILITY—of the environmental kind—should be at the forefront of your K-12 school nutrition operation. Share tables can be a wonderful addition (or start) to your site’s sustainability efforts. They can help you cut down the amount of waste produced in your cafeteria, which in turn will reduce the amount of stress associated with waste management, such as from maintaining trash receptacles or managing transportation and disposal. Many districts have established ongoing efforts to develop initiatives to support sustainability; this could be a great selling point if a school or district administrator is hesitant to start a share table program. Need more data to make the case? USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a goal to divert 50% of food waste from landfills by 2030. SNA’s philanthropic sister organization, the School Nutrition Foundation, is a partner in a cafeteria waste research initiative spearheaded by the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF). The School Cafeteria Discards Assessment Project (SCrAP) is trying to quantify waste generated in K-12 school cafeterias as a means to understanding the scope of the problem and educating staff and students regarding more sustainable waste management strategies. Visit www.erefdn.org/school-cafeteriawaste to learn more or sign up to get involved. HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plans will need to be developed and adhered to when handling, storing and serving any items that are part of a K-12 share table initiative. As most school nutrition professionals should know, HACCP protocols identify where a food hazard might occur and establishes a corresponding safety step to prevent an unsafe outcome. Among the most critical HACCP steps associated with share table management are those that relate to time and temperature. Your cafeteria production and serving teams should already have these critical control points (CCPs) identified and in place, ready to apply them to designated items that students can share in the same manner as you would with the items when they are served to the students. » Keep potentially hazardous foods outside of the danger zone—the temperature range in which bacteria can grow (41°F and 140°F). » Certain foods can be kept in the danger zone for a minimal amount of time, ranging between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the type of food. » Minimize the number of times a food passes through the danger zone in reheating and cooling. Knowing these facts and knowing how to apply the SOPs are two different things. School Nutrition collected some share table strategies and comments from cafeteria staff from around the country. One Texas director used an extra milk cooler for students to load with unwanted refrigerated items, such as milk or bags of baby carrots. Another filled a portable cooler with ice to keep perishable items at a safe temperature. One note from these examples is that most cafeteria share items tend to be shelf-stable or cold items. Many hot items, even if served in an unopened package do not lend themselves well to share tables. ADHERE to all federal, state and local health and food safety requirements. That’s the most important takeaway from a USDA memorandum on this topic that the agency issued on June 22, 2016. This means that, while the federal government may okay the practice of share tables, they may be prohibited by a state or local government. That said, laws and regulations are subject to change. For example, according to one Oklahoma member, the legislature in that state recently passed a law designed to supersede local regulations that prohibit share tables and now allow schools to begin establishing these. Carefully review all levels of the food code in your community to ensure you understand what your school nutrition operation can and can’t do. If you determine that you are prohibited from some or all models of share tables, reach out to local public health authorities to discuss possible flexibility. REVIEW items that can be safely shared. Good choices are those that are unopened, sealed, whole and/or washable. By limiting shareable items to a reasonable number, you can reduce confusion, questions and mistakes. You want to do all you can to keep children safe, food quality high and staff well-informed. In its June 2016 memo, USDA recommended some specific items deemed appropriate for sharing: » Unopened pre-packaged items, such as a bag of baby carrots or sliced apples stored in a cooling bin. » Whole pieces of fruit, such as apples or bananas. » Unopened milk, if immediately stored in a cooling bin maintained at 41°F or below. » Unopened, pre-packaged items that do not need refrigeration (such as a bag of chips). USDA also specified items that are not recommended for sharing: » Unpackaged items, such as a salad bowl without a lid. » Packaged items that can be opened and then resealed. » Open items, partially consumed, such as an opened bag of baby carrots or sliced apples. » Perishable foods, when a temperature control mechanism is not in place. USDA cautions school cafeteria teams to exclude items brought from home unless they are pre-packaged, sealed and shelf-stable. Individual household practices may or may not be at the same public health standards as a foodservice kitchen. Use colorful and clear signage to help students understand the list of appropriate items and why an uneaten banana can be shared, but a salad bowl cannot. Post a short, easy-to-read list of rules and instructions for students to follow. ENCOURAGE students to eat what they take and to take what they intend to eat. If students simply took what they knew they could comfortably eat, food waste reduction campaigns wouldn’t be attracting so much attention today! Too often, trash cans (at school and at home) are filled with still-edible portions of meals. Beyond share tables, there are other strategies to try in your cafeterias: applying offer vs. serve strategies; providing regular sampling opportunities to encourage students to try new tastes and flavors several times before committing to a full portion; conducting regular and varying nutrition education activities. TIME and temperature controls are needed for all perishable items. Milk, cut fruit, cut vegetables and any other items that require refrigeration should be monitored closely. Time and temperature logs are a best practice; record the temperature of the items, the time at which the temperature was taken and notes regarding the monitoring of the cooling device used. Checking items regularly not only will help to prevent any hazards, it will offer opportunities to make necessary corrections. ALTHOUGH some programs discard share table items at the end of the meal period or full meal service for the day, you might consider using the items for another meal program. USDA’s June 2016 memo confirms that food or beverage items left on the share table may be served and claimed for reimbursement during another meal service, such as for an afterschool snack program. USDA also permits a school food authority to donate share table food and beverage items to a local non-profit. This could include a community food bank, homeless shelter or other similar charitable organization. BEVERAGES are ideal share table items. Milk and juice products both are normally served in a sealed container that would lend itself, if unopened, to a share table exchange. These items are often the top choice by students requesting second servings. Indeed, making second helpings available for free to hungry students, especially those from food-insecure households, is another compelling benefit for establishing a share table exchange. The federal child nutrition programs work to close the hunger gap—as well as provide nutrition to students from all socio-economic demographics. Few would assert that the meal pattern is a perfect “one-sizefits-all” solution for every child. In addition to food insecurity at home, growth spurts and varied levels of activity can play a part in the hunger levels of a child at school. Share tables offer an affordable option for all students to be full and ready to learn. LOOK at items carefully as students drop them off at the share table. School food authorities are strongly encouraged to have a conscientious and well-trained monitor present to ensure that only specified items are saved and all food safety requirements are followed. Check individually packaged items to ensure they have not been opened or tampered with. Never save opened items. Consider drafting some student volunteers to help with this responsibility. Students can be amazing assistants at a share table. It teaches them the life skill of stewardship and reinforces how important it is to not be wasteful. Student helpers will also gain a better understanding of how these items may help a fellow student or local charity and learn responsibility. It also doesn’t hurt to teach them food safety protocols at a young age, either! However an adult should always provide close supervision of student helpers. EDUCATE families, children and staff through promotion of your share table opportunity. This can showcase your stewardship, generosity and responsibility. At the beginning of the school year and selected other times during the year, send a flyer home that explains how the share table works, restrictions for use and the benefits. Include the same information on your operation’s website and social media pages, as well as in newsletters and other parent/community communications. Make sure your messaging includes the primary goals of this initiative: to reduce food waste and increase consumption of healthy foods. SCHOOL nutrition staff, as well as lunch room monitors, will benefit from periodic training about share tables. Learning objectives for the training should include understanding of the requirements and best practices outlined in the USDA’s June 2016 Memo as well as how your particular location addresses each item. BONUS WEB CONTENT DO YOU DARE TO SHARE? A sample SOP for share tables is available as an online exclusive for this month, as is a link to USDA’s June 2016 Memo, including its “Share Table Food Safety Requirements and Other Best Practices” document. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Sharon Schaefer is a school nutrition chef, speaker and educator and regular contributor to School Nutrition. She can be reached through her website, www.EvolutionOfTheLunchLady.com.
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