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SFSP Administration FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions
Administering the Summer Food Service Program

Q1: When must sponsors request changes for meal service times, field trips, or Average Daily Participation (ADP) and how do they make these requests?

A: Sponsors must request approval for all site changes within the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) before the effective date of the change. Sponsors must request the following site changes at least one day before the change is to take effect in order for the change to be reimbursable:

The Nutrition Services Division (NSD) cannot retroactively approve any of the requests listed above.

For example: If you are approved to serve meals from July 1 through August 5, and on August 20 you request to extend your end date to August 15, the NSD must deny this request.

Q2: When are Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) applications due?

A: Each federal fiscal year begins October 1. Year-round sponsors must submit their application by September 1 in order to obtain approval by October 1. For sponsors who operate only during the summer months, their application is ideally due 45 days before beginning meal service and no later than May 15. Applications are processed on a first come, first serve basis. If a sponsor waits until May 10 to submit an application, they may not receive approval by their start date.

Q3: How does a sponsor know the status of its sponsor application or site application?

A: The CNIPS tracks the status of a sponsor’s application in the Application Packet screen under Packet History. When the application is approved for the first time each federal fiscal year it will read “the application was given first level of approval” followed by “application was approved.” Thereafter, it will only read “the application was approved.”

If the NSD returns the application, they will type in comments to the sponsor to let them know what needs attention.

Q4: How big (or small) does a designated eating area need to be?

A: While sponsors must designate eating areas for each SFSP site, the square footage of that area is not specified in Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 225. The designated eating areas can include space beyond the immediate food service area as long as adequate supervision is provided by trained site staff to ensure compliance with the SFSP regulations.

For example, at a school campus where participants come to the food service area from different areas of the campus (e.g. various on-site day camp locations), participants may take their meals back to those areas, as long as adequate supervision is maintained.

To prevent loss of reimbursement, sponsors should review the Designated Eating Area and Traveling Apple sections of Management Bulletin 04-708 [] regarding SFSP Site Operation Clarifications and Changes.

Q5: Does a site have to serve meals at the same time each day?

A: Serving meals at the same time every day is vital to ensuring all children have equal access to meals as well as encouraging children to return to the site day after day. Therefore, sponsors must designate specific start and end times for meal service at each site. Staff can serve meals at any point within those approved start and end times. For example, if a sponsor designates 12:00 p.m. as the meal start time and 2:00 p.m. as the meal end time, it is allowable to serve meals from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. or any other time between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. as long as the site:

It is best to serve meals the same time each day; however, if there are unanticipated changes, such as late meal delivery, this may not always be possible. Start and end times for meal service should allow for these potential unavoidable delays.

Q6: How long (or short) of a period of time can meal service be each day?

A: The USDA recently issued a new policy memo that does not limit the amount of time meals can be served. In the past, agencies were required to limit breakfast, lunch, and supper to two hours, and snacks to one hour. Now there is no requirement for length of meal service; however, sponsors must still designate a start and end time. It is important to remember sound food safety practices, however. Food should not be left in the danger zone (40 to 140 degrees) for more than two hours in order to prevent bacterial growth that can cause illness.

Given that the NSD has not yet modified the CNIPS to reflect this new policy, sponsors must insert an explanation in line #97 in cases where meals are requested past the previously required meal spacing and duration requirements. The NSD plans to modify the CNIPS to accommodate the change in USDA policy by spring 2013.

Q7: Does breakfast have to be served early in the morning? Does lunch have to be served at noon?

A: Sponsors must designate specific start and end times for meal service, but meal service can begin or end at unusual times as long as the meal period corresponds with on-site programs and the community is given adequate notice. For example, it is acceptable to designate 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. as the start time for lunch. Similarly, it is acceptable to designate 9:30 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. as the start time for breakfast.

If the sponsor needs to serve a meal type at an unusual service time, the CNIPS will prompt the sponsor to explain their reason for needing that time in the Site Application screen line #96.

Q8: If a site serves more than one type of meal each day, how far apart do those meal times have to be?

A: The USDA recently issued a policy memo that waives the requirement for meal spacing. There is no specific time span that must elapse between meals now. An agency could serve lunch from 12–1 p.m. and a snack from 2–2:30 if they would like. When setting meal/snack times, please consider whether the children will be hungry in order to avoid wasting food.

Q9: Does the requirement for meal service times restrict the use of a mobile SFSP site?

A: Flexibility around meal service times and meal service duration can support mobile SFSP sites. For example, a 15 minute meal service period may suffice for the SFSP van to serve meals and monitor on-site consumption at community locations that do not host concurrent activities or recreation. However, there must be someone at the site to supervise consumption of the meals.

Q10:   Can parents or other people over the age of 18 eat meals at SFSP sites?

A: Yes. People over the age of 18 can eat meals at SFSP sites; however, sponsors cannot claim meals served to adults. The expense of preparing those meals is an unallowable cost.

People over the age of 18 with a mental or physical disability (as determined by a state or local educational agency) and who participate during the school year in a public or private non-profit school program (established for people with mental or physical disabilities) are eligible to receive reimbursable meals.

Q11:   Do sponsors need to visit each of their SFSP sites during the first week of operation?

A: The USDA is waiving the requirement that sponsors conduct a site visit during the first week of operation if the site operated successfully the previous year. If the NSD deems a sponsor seriously deficient, however, the NSD requires that the sponsor conduct first week site visits during the next year of operation at all of their SFSP sites.

The USDA still requires sponsors to visit all new sites in the first week of operation, and to conduct site visits for all sites in the fourth week of operations. For all sites, the USDA requires sponsors to maintain a reasonable level of site monitoring. If the sponsor or the NSD identifies a serious deficiency during a site visit or review, sponsors must conduct a follow up visit to ensure that the corrective action has been implemented at the site.

Q12:  Are sponsors required to use the Daily Meal Count Form provided in the United States Department of Agriculture Administrative Guidance for Sponsors handbook?

A: No. Sponsors can request approval from the NSD to use a modified form. The Daily Meal Count Form provided in the Administrative Guidance for Sponsors handbook is an example. Sponsors can find the sample Daily Meal Count Form on the CNIPS Download Forms screen.

[Please note: The NSD is interested in collecting sample simplified forms currently being used by SFSP sponsors.]

Q13: Do sponsors need to post the site rules provided by the NSD?

A: The NSD no longer requires sponsors to post the site rules. Rather, sponsors are encouraged to post site rules to inform participants and their families attending the site about the SFSP. Sponsors can modify the language and tone of the sample list of rules provided by NSD to communicate SFSP rules.

Q14: How do sponsors obtain a school’s free and reduced-price meal data to qualify Open or Closed-enrolled sites?

A: First, a sponsor should look on the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Web site for this data. The Web links and instructions for obtaining the free or reduced-price meal data are listed below:

CDE DataQuest

If the current year’s Free and Reduced-Price Meal information is not available from the above Web page, follow the steps below.

CDE Free and Reduced-Price Meal Data
  1. Go to Free/Reduced Meals Program & CalWORKS Data Files []
  2. Select the most current year
  3. After the Excel spreadsheet appears, simultaneously press the Ctrl + F key to search for the school of interest using the Find tool in Excel. If you cannot find the school data that you need, try searching for a partial school name (e.g., Lakeview rather than Lakeview Elementary School)

A sponsor can also contact the school within its attendance boundaries to request this data if it is not available online.

Q15: Where do sponsors find a meal vendor?

A: The NSD has a Registered Vendor List of Commercial Food Service Vendors on the CNIPS Download Forms section. Please note that when a vendor is used, sponsors are ultimately responsible for ensuring that reimbursable meals are prepared, delivered, and served.

Q16: Can sponsors use a vendor that is not on the NSD’s Registered Vendor List?

A. At this time, sponsors may procure meals from a school district or another SFSP sponsor without being on the Registered Vendors List.

If a sponsor wishes to use a commercial food service vendor that is not on the NSD’s Registered Vendors List, that vendor must initiate and finalize the registration process. The registration process usually takes about two weeks depending on how quickly the vendor provides the NSD with the required information. Commercial food service vendors may contact an SFSP specialist by e-mail at to register.

Sponsors are responsible for ensuring vendors complete the registration process within five business days of beginning meal service or risk losing reimbursement. The NSD provides vendors with a letter indicating they are on the registered vendors list.

Q17: If I have an urgent need related to my SFSP program, and I am unable to get in touch with my SFSP specialist, who else can I call?

A. You can call or e-mail any of the four SFSP program specialists. Contact information is listed below:

Dennis Arena,; 916-324-9073
Melissa Garza,; 916-322-5885

Sponsors may also call any of the above specialists toll free at 800-952-5609.

Related Content
Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
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