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Nutrition Standard Exemptions: Competitive Foods


Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Sponsors

Attention: Food Service Directors

Number: SNP-07-2019

Date: April 2019

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Policy Memorandum SP 63-2014: Smart Snacks Standards for Exempt Foods When Paired Together and California Education Code sections 49431 and 49431.2

Supersedes: SNP-34-2014 Smart Snacks Standards for Exempt Foods When Paired Together

Subject: Competitive Food Standards for Exempt Items When Sold Individually or Paired Together


This Management Bulletin (MB) supersedes MB SNP-34-2014. This revised MB provides updated California requirements for nutrition exemptions, specifically that individually sold eggs are exempt from the total fat and saturated fat competitive nutrition standards. This revised MB also includes previous information regarding U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition standards when individually exempted items are paired together.

Items Exempt from One or More Competitive Food Nutrition Standards

According to both California and USDA competitive food rules, a food must meet up to six nutrition standards to be considered compliant:

  1. Calories
  2. Total fat
  3. Saturated fat
  4. Trans fat
  5. Sugar
  6. Sodium

Certain individual foods are exempt from specific nutrition standards as follows:

Foods exempt* from the total fat standard:

  • Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, reduced-fat cheese or part skim mozzarella, dried fruit and nut or seed combination, fruit, nonfried vegetables, eggs, seafood

Foods exempt* from the saturated fat standard:

  • Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, reduced-fat cheese or part skim mozzarella, dried fruit and nut or seed combination, eggs

Foods exempt* from the sugar standard:

  • Fruit, nonfried vegetables, dried fruit and nut or seed combination

* When sold individually and do not contain added fats or sugars.

No individual foods are exempt from the calorie, trans fat, or sodium standards.

Exempt Foods When Paired Together and Sold as One Unit

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service issued Policy Memorandum SP 63-2014: Smart Snacks Standards for Exempt Foods When Paired Together, which provides clarification for Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 210.11—also known as the Smart Snacks in School (SSIS) rule—when two exempt items are packaged together. SP 63-2014 is available on the USDA Smart Snacks Standards for Exempt Foods when Paired Together web page at https://www.fns.usda.gov/smart-snacks-standards-exempt-foods-when-paired-together.

Policy memo SP 63-2014 discusses combination foods, entrées, and a term called paired exemptions. By definition, combination foods and entrées are one food item that contain two or more foods from the main food groups. This memo specifically addresses instances when two or more foods, each exempt from a specific nutrient standard(s), are packaged together. When exempt foods are combined they are recognized as a paired exemption. Taking the exempt items from the list above, only a combination of these foods, without added fat or sugar, are considered a paired exemption:

  • Reduced-fat cheese or part-skim mozzarella
  • Nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters
  • Dried fruit with nuts or seeds
  • Fruit: fresh, frozen, or canned in 100 percent juice
  • Nonfried vegetables: fresh, frozen, or canned
  • Dried fruits or dried vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Eggs

Some examples of paired exemptions include celery packaged with peanut butter or reduced-fat cheese packaged with apple slices.

As described in policy memo SP 63-2014, the USDA determined that paired exemptions will usually not exceed the SSIS limit for four of the six nutrient standards required to assess compliance of a competitive food. Therefore, regardless of their individual exemptions, paired exemptions are exempt from the following four nutrient standards:

  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Sugar

Paired exemptions are not exempt from the nutrient requirements for calories and sodium. Under federal regulations, when a paired exemption is assessed for compliance, it must meet the calorie and sodium requirements specified under the SSIS rule. For example, a serving of peanut butter and celery; peanut butter is exempt from the total fat and saturated fat requirements. When peanut butter and celery are sold as a packaged unit, under SSIS this paired exemption must only meet the calorie and sodium requirements to be considered compliant.

Exempt Foods in California

Title 5, California Code of Regulations, Section 15578(d), describes California’s requirements for exempt food items when paired together as “A food item for sale containing solely a mix of exempted foods is exempt from the fat restriction, saturated fat restriction, sugar restriction and caloric restriction.”

In California, under state competitive food and beverage requirements, food items containing only exempted foods packaged together (i.e., paired exemptions) are exempt from the nutrient standards for total fat, saturated fat, sugar, and calories, but are not exempt from trans fat limits.

Implementation of Paired Exemptions in California

When implementing paired exemptions in California, the integration of state and federal requirements for competitive food and beverages must be considered. Federal regulations are stricter than California regulations regarding paired exemptions by requiring them to meet calorie and sodium limits, but California regulations require a paired exemption to meet the trans fat limit.

The integration of California and USDA regulations require paired exemptions to meet the following nutrient restrictions:

  • Calories
  • Sodium
  • Trans fat

By setting these standards, California and the USDA ensure that paired exemptions still meet the intent of the competitive food and beverage rules.

Please forward this MB to all individuals and groups within your school community that are directly affected by or may benefit from this information.

If you have questions regarding this MB, please contact the Competitive Foods and Beverages team by email at competitivefoods@cde.ca.gov.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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