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The Use of Share Tables

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: Child Nutrition Program Operators

Attention: Program Operators

Number: CNP-04-2016

Date: September 2016

Reference: California Health and Safety Code, Part 7; California Retail Food Code, sections 113739, 113756, 113757, 113781, 113789, 113871, 113897, 113996, 114000, and 114079; Management Bulletin USDA-CNP-04-2012: Guidance on the Donation of Leftover Food in Child Nutrition Programs; Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, sections 210.13, 220.7, 225.16(a), and 226.20(l); U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service Instruction 786-6; U.S. Department of Agriculture Policy Memorandum SP 41-2016, CACFP 13-2016, SFSP 15-2016: The Use of Share Tables in Child Nutrition Programs

Supersedes: Management Bulletin NSD-SNP-05-2008

Subject: The Use of Share Tables in Child Nutrition Programs

This management bulletin (MB) provides guidance regarding the use of share tables in child nutrition programs (CNP) and extends the use of share tables to the At-risk Afterschool Meals Program.

Share Tables and Recycled Milk

In an effort to reduce food waste and encourage the consumption of food served, many food service operations have established share tables. Share tables are carts or tables where children can place unconsumed food and beverage items (i.e., prepackaged food and beverages; unopened, wrapped food and beverages; or food items with a peel) that they choose to not eat or drink. These tables provide an opportunity for other children to take additional helpings of food or beverages at no cost. In many instances, food and beverage items can be reused by food service operations as part of a reimbursable meal, served a la carte, or used in cooking. Food and beverage items can also be donated to a nonprofit organization. For more information, see MB CNP 04-2012, Guidance on the Donation of Leftover Food in CNPs located on the California Department of Education (CDE) School Nutrition Programs Web page at

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Instruction 786-6 permits the use of both share tables and the recycling of food and beverages, including milk, state food safety laws are more restrictive; therefore, this practice is only acceptable when in compliance with applicable state and local health codes.

In California Retail Food Code (CalCode) 114079, the use of share tables is permitted only if all of the following conditions are met:

  • No food or beverage may ever be returned to the food preparation, food service, or food storage areas for use by the food service operation or for any human consumption, except those items permitted in CalCode 114079(b).
  • Potentially hazardous foods or beverages (as defined in CalCode 113871) on the share table are consumed or discarded within four hours of the food or beverage entering the temperature danger zone (41 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The share table is supervised by a member of the food service staff to ensure that no food, beverage, or condiment has been contaminated (e.g., opened, partially consumed, etc.), and the original packaging is maintained in sound condition.

Please note that the definitions and terms used in this MB are outlined in CalCode, which is available on the California Department of Public Health, Retail Food Program Web page at

Under no circumstances may any potentially hazardous food or beverage served or sold to a consumer be reused or recycled by the food service operation for human consumption, even if temperature guidelines are maintained and the food or beverage container has been sanitized. For example, unopened milk containers on the share table that are placed in ice during the meal period and are wiped down at the end of the meal period with a clean towel and sanitizer solution may still not be reused or recycled. For further guidance and information, please contact your local environmental health department.

Best Practices for Child Nutrition Programs
  • Offer vs. Serve

Food service operations with increased food costs (due to waste and food discarded from share tables) may want to consider implementing Offer vs. Serve (OVS). OVS is a provision with two major goals: (1) reduce food waste in CNPs, and (2) permit children to select only the foods they want to consume. OVS allows students to decline components during a breakfast, lunch, or supper service. The number of components that can be declined at each meal service is contingent on the CNP the agency operates. OVS is only permitted under some circumstances in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CACFP agencies should contact their specialist to determine if they are eligible to implement OVS. While OVS is required for lunch at the high school level for the National School Lunch Program, it is optional for all other grade levels. As stated earlier, implementing OVS is intended to decrease the amount of food and beverage waste; therefore, decreasing the amount of food on share tables.

  • Placement of Share Tables

Placement of the share table at the end of a serving line (rather than further out in a cafeteria, for instance) can improve the supervision of the share table by food service staff, therefore ensuring that food contamination is reduced or eliminated.

  • No-share Table Policies

Many agency food service operations have chosen to institute a no-share table policy eliminating all possible health concerns and other issues surrounding contamination or other questionable issues of share tables.

  • Nonpotentially Hazardous Foods Left on the Share Table

According to CalCode 113871(a), a potentially hazardous food is “a food that requires time or temperature control to limit pathogenic micro-organism growth or toxin formation.” Nonpotentially hazardous foods such as prepackaged crackers/graham crackers, bowl pack cereals, and condiment packets, which are maintained in their original packaging, and are free from contamination, may be reused by the food service operation if they ensure that the share table is supervised by the food service staff. If the above requirements cannot be guaranteed, many school food service operations choose to leave these food items on the share table and make them available for students as additional snacks, which are not considered to be part of the reimbursable meal.

  • Residential Child Care Institutions, Schools, or Agencies Serving Family Style Meals

Many agencies, including residential child care institutions, serve meals family style, where all food and menu items are placed on the table where students are eating, and students are allowed to serve themselves second helpings of food or menu items. When family style meals are served, all food items on the table must be discarded at the end of the meal service and not reserved as part of another reimbursable meal.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points Plan for School Districts

In order to assist local enforcement agencies with routine food safety inspections, the CDE Nutrition Services Division (NSD) strongly recommends that school districts include the guidelines for share tables in their food service operation’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points plan, and provide proper food safety and food handling training to employees. Although CalCode regulations apply statewide, certain counties may have stricter regulations on the use of share tables. The NSD also recommends that each district or agency discuss these issues with its local enforcement agency (i.e., health inspectors).

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact your CACFP, School Nutrition Program (SNP), or Summer Meals Unit (SMU) specialist.


Nancy Charpentier, Office Technician (OT), by phone at 916-327-2991 or by e-mail at; or Leslie Schar, OT, by phone at 916-324-6153 or by e-mail at


Ashley Osterman, Child Nutrition Consultant (CNC), Northern SNP Unit, by phone at 916-445-1261 or by e-mail at; or Lori Porter, CNC, Southern SNP Unit, by phone at 916-322-1454 or by e-mail at


Larry Frakes, OT, by phone at 916-322-8323 or by e-mail at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, October 16, 2017
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