Questions and Answers for Exemption for School Meals Whole Grain Rich Requirement SY 2016-2017
- Is a State agency required to offer the whole grain-rich exemptions addressed in this memorandum?
State agencies decide whether or not to offer school food authorities (SFAs) the temporary whole grain-rich exemption allowed by legislation. If a State agency wishes to do so, it must establish an approval process to evaluate an SFA's exemption request(s) and supporting documentation. The State agency's exemption request process is not subject to FNS approval.
- Who may submit an exemption request?
An SFA may submit an exemption request to the State agency if it can demonstrate hardships in procuring, preparing, or serving a whole grain-rich product for a previously offered enriched grain item. An exemption request may be for one or more different grain products, or for a group of products, and specify the enriched grain item the SFA would like to offer temporarily.
- Does an exemption approval relieve an SFA from offering any whole grain-rich foods?
No. SFAs that receive an exemption remain responsible for incorporating whole grain-rich products into school menus and must ensure that at least half of the grain items offered weekly is whole grain-rich. During the exemption period, the SFA must work with the State agency to identify, evaluate, and incorporate compliant whole grain-rich products into school menus as soon as possible.
- How would the enriched grains offered under this exemption count toward the meal pattern requirements?
The enriched grain products approved for the exemption would count toward the required grains component, but the SFA would be required to offer other products that meet whole grain-rich requirements during the school week. An SFA that receives an exemption must comply with the school year (SY) 2013-2014 requirements to offer at least half of the grains as whole grain-rich products. For example, if an enriched pasta product is allowed under the exemption, other grains offered, such as rice or bread, must be whole grain-rich.
- What documentation must an SFA submit to the State agency with the exemption request?
Acceptable documentation would include menu planning records, production/preparation records, and pictures with additional information that may assist in the determination of the exemption request. The State agency has discretion to specify required documentation.
- Does approval of an exemption request for a single enriched grain product, such as enriched pasta, remove the SFA's responsibility to seek other acceptable whole grain-rich pasta products?
No. SFAs are expected to actively collaborate with the State agency to identify, evaluate, and incorporate acceptable whole grain-rich food products into the school menu as soon as possible. The State agency must provide technical assistance to the SFA to help overcome temporary challenges.
- Do State agencies need to approve exemption requests within a specified time frame?
State agencies must review an SFA's request and documentation, and notify the SFA of the exemption determination as quickly as possible. All necessary documentation must be available in the event of an Administrative Review.
- Are State agencies able to issue a blanket flexibility approval for all SFAs or include exemption requests as options in their annual renewal agreements with SFAs?
No. State agencies may not issue a blanket exemption approval for all SFAs. Exemption requests are expected to be approved on a case-by-case basis for one or more different grain products, or for a group of products based on the documented hardship(s) experienced by an SFA in procuring each compliant whole grain-rich product.
- Should State agencies issue all exemption approvals through SY 2016-2017?
State agencies may, but are not required to, approve an SFA's exemption request through school year 2016-2017. During the exemption period, the State agency is expected to communicate periodically with the SFA to ensure steps are being taken to identify, evaluate, and incorporate other acceptable whole grain-rich products and/or preparation methods. States are also expected to help SFAs share information about new or existing whole grain-rich products that are popular with students or disseminate best practices or the successful experience of a particular SFA/school. The Tools for Schools: Whole Grain-Rich ( https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/tools-schools-serving-whole-grain-rich ) is a useful forum for State agencies and SFAs.
- May a State agency require an SFA to sign a statement certifying that it has documentation to support the exemption request and review such documentation later during an Administrative Review?
No. The State agency must examine the supporting documentation prior to approving an exemption request for one or more different grain products, or for a group of products. This is necessary because only a portion of SFAs are scheduled to be reviewed in school years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017. For recordkeeping, the SFA must maintain the flexibility request approval and supporting documentation on file.
- Do the whole grain flexibilities included in this memo impact the nutrient standards included in the interim final rule for Smart Snacks in School?
The Smart Snacks in School interim final rule at 7 CFR Part 210.11(c)(3)(i) provides for an exemption from the Smart Snacks nutrient requirements only for entrees served in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program the day of and the day after service in the reimbursable school meal. All other grain products sold to students on the school campus during the school day shall comply with the whole grain rich standards specified in Section 210.11(c)(2)(ii).
- What is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doing to support schools in obtaining compliant whole grain and whole grain-rich food options?
USDA Foods offer a variety of whole grain and whole grain-rich products to schools to support successful implementation of the whole grain requirements. Current options include whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour/enriched flour blend, rolled oats, whole grain-rich pancakes, whole grain-rich tortillas, brown rice, and both 100% whole grain and whole grain-rich spaghetti, macaroni, rotini, and penne pasta. USDA Foods staff continues to explore additional options and will accept suggestions for new items to support school districts' needs via email at:USDAFoods@fns.usda.gov(link sends e-mail).
- How does this exemption affect SFAs and State agencies that have exercised the flexibilities granted under the policy memorandum that is superseded by this extension notice?
At the discretion of the State agency, SFAs may retain the previously approved exemptions and do not need to reapply. All temporary flexibilities approved by a State agency under the superseded memorandum may continue under the terms by which they were approved, through school year 2016-2017. However, State agencies may choose to require SFAs to re-apply for the exemption to ensure that the requirements of the exemption continue to be met. It is expected that State agencies are working closely with SFAs receiving exemptions to identify, evaluate, and incorporate acceptable whole grain-rich products into school menus as soon as possible.