Be an Advocate for Pragmatic Solutions

In “Three Former Health Inspectors Walk Into a School Kitchen…” (September 2020), School Nutrition shared the unique reflections of three current school nutrition operators who once worked in the public health department. Among the advice that didn’t fit in the magazine’s print edition are words of wisdom about advocating on food safety issues at the state level.

Some states have a formal foodservice advisory council or establish a task force that meets periodically to update food safety and other regulations that affect foodservice operations. It’s exceedingly helpful to have a formal seat at this table—or at least some kind of influential voice.

In Oklahoma, Shonia Hall, RSP, SNS, Director, School Nutrition Services, Oklahoma City Public Schools, helped to write and get passed a state law that gives schools an official seat. It’s helpful beyond the health inspection, she says, pointing to participating in discussions about the implications of food safety certification requirements for foodservice employees and inspection fee increases. Plus, insight into what the state’s advisory council is even considering can be shared with state school nutrition association leaders for a helpful head’s up to plan professional development training or potential legislative advocacy action.

While school foodservice operations don’t have an official position on Ohio’s state group, “We do have a voice,” says Jessica Shelly, MBA, RHS, RS, SNS, Director of Student Dining Services, Cincinnati Public Schools. Taking a page from their experience at SNA’s annual Legislative Action Conference, the School Nutrition Association of Ohio (SNA Ohio) developed a grassroots advocacy campaign to oppose a proposed allergen-labeling law that would impact in house-developed SmartSnacks offerings and potentially cost districts thousands. Armed with examples and infographics to make their case, SNA Ohio won an exemption to the law, requiring schools only to keep a binder of ingredients and be available to answer questions.

The takeaway message, says Dan Ellnor, CP-FS, SNS, Assistant Director, School & Community Nutrition Services, Jefferson County (Ky.) Public Schools, “is to advocate any way you can” when it comes to decisions about the food code or any other state decision affecting your operation.

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