USDA proposes new training standards for school nutrition professionals

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The Obama administration is pushing new requirements for school nutrition professionals who prepare lunches and breakfasts for students.

School food workers who manage and handle meals would face new education and training requirements, under the professional standards that the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing. Each state would be required to provide the training to state and local employees. 

The proposed rules, which will be published in Tuesday's Federal Register, stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. 

Cafeteria workers who prepare the meals would receive training in areas such as food production, serving food, cashiering, receiving and storing the food, and health and safety standards.

Directors and managers who run their schools' meal programs would receive training focused on menu planning, ordering, accommodating children with special dietary needs and emergency food management.

New directors who are hired after July 1, 2015 would also face new education requirements, though these rules wouldn't apply to existing directors, who would be "grandfathered" into the system.

For instance, nutrition directors would generally be expected to have a bachelor's degree, though at larger schools they may be encouraged to have a master's degree. At smaller schools, some candidates with only a high school diploma or associates degree who have significant experience in the field may qualify. 

According to a study that the USDA mentioned in its proposal, smaller schools tend to employ nutritional directors with less experience than those in larger schools. In fact, 27 percent of nutritional directors in schools with fewer than 2,500 students posses only a high school diploma. 

But in schools with between 2,500 and less than 10,000 students, nearly 70 percent of nutritional directors have some sort of college degree, while only 8 percent have no college experience.

The number of directors with a college degree jumps to 85 percent at schools with more than 10,000 students.