There are over 30 million children nationwide who participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast program every day. The latest statistics show that 75% of them struggle with food insecurity and receive free or reduced-price meals.
COVID-19 and nationwide school closures have changed everything about how these children, who depend on school meals, will be fed. It has also impacted meal preparation and serving methods.
Setting the standard
Since 2005, U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations have set the standards for all meals produced by school food service authorities participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.
Child nutrition staff rely heavily on the USDA’s required standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure that all food is handled, stored, prepared and served consistently and safely. In K-12 school food service, there are formal procedures for every aspect of normal operation.
School closures have presented a unique challenge for feeding students. There are no SOPs for the two most prevalent food service options that schools are considering during closures: drive up service and bus or truck meal delivery.
There are no standard operating procedures for the two most prevalent food service options that schools are considering during closures: drive up service and bus or truck meal delivery.
We have put together serving tips for school nutrition departments to help ensure the health and safety of both students and staff in non-congregate settings. Here are the top nine:
- Be sure all staff, delivery drivers and volunteers are properly trained.
- Use common sense in terms of personal health. Make sure that staffers wash their hands throughout the day, stay home if they are sick, and sneeze or cough into their arms or into a tissue that they discard after use.
- Clean and disinfect every touch surface multiple times each day. Surfaces include carts, doorknobs and push bars, faucets, and equipment handles, to name a few.
- Follow standard operating procedures for personal hygiene and for holding foods, along with proper glove use throughout the day.
Abide by the FIFO rule. If shelf-stable foods are used, remember: First in, first out.
- When packing all foods, wear food service gloves. Some people who show no signs of the virus may still be carrying the pathogen. The virus has shown to have an extended life on surfaces.
- Before serving, consider labeling meals with a “prep date” and/or “consume by date.” This particularly important when shelf-stable foods are not being used.
- When serving meals to children in their cars or from delivery vehicles (including school buses), wear food service gloves. Wearing gloves at all times—even if food is sealed in containers—will instill confidence that staff members and volunteers are doing what they can to protect the food from possible contamination. They should remove gloves if they come into contact with another person who may not have properly cleaned their hands or with a surface that may not have been disinfected.
At the end of the day, wash, rinse and sanitize all food contact surfaces, and disinfect and sanitize all nonfood contact and touch surfaces.
For more free SOP guidance, click here.
Bart Christian is chairman of the board for Food Handler Solutions and SchoolFoodHandler.com.