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Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SNP-12-2012

Attention: Food Service Director

Date: February 2012

Subject: Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Policy Memo SP 02-2010-Revised

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides information on, and support for, the current implementation of salad bars in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The California Department of Education (CDE) recognizes that the release of the Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, effective July 1, 2012, will affect salad bar operations. The CDE Nutrition Services Division (NSD) will provide clarification on salad bar operations when it becomes available through future MBs and statewide training opportunities.

A policy memo detailing this information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is available on the USDA Web page at


Both the USDA, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and the CDE encourage the use of salad bars in school meal programs. Significant data indicate that salad bars can be an effective means of increasing student fruit and vegetable consumption. In their report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, the Institute of Medicine cited a 2007 study noting that “salad bar programs in public schools indicate positive effects on fruit and vegetable consumption.” In addition, data from the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-II (SNDA) and SNDA-III indicate that schools with salad bars offer a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than other schools. Salad bars may also lower plate waste in school meal programs.

On October 20, 2011, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson launched “Team California for Healthy Kids” ( a statewide effort to promote healthy eating and physical activity in schools, childcare programs, and communities. A major campaign goal is to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly by implementing salad bars in schools.

The USDA and the CDE encourage school food authorities (SFAs) to incorporate salad bars in their operations whenever possible, and to explore other creative opportunities to promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption when salad bars are not a viable option.

Portion Sizes

The USDA Policy Memo SP 02-2010-Revised provides details on portion size requirements using both Food Based Menu Planning and Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, as well as options for pre-portioning to ensure minimum portion sizes. As mentioned earlier, the USDA menu planning regulations, effective July 1, 2012, will affect salad bar implementation.

Point of Service

Based upon the structure and food items available, a salad bar may provide a complete reimbursable lunch (with the exception of milk) or menu items that count as a part of the reimbursable lunch. To ensure student selections meet required portions, the SFA must station the Point of Service (POS) after the salad bar. However, the USDA recognizes that in some cases the design of school food service areas necessitates placing the salad bar after the POS location. The USDA encourages state agencies (SAs) to identify acceptable POS alternatives for the placement of salad bars after the POS that SFAs may select without prior approval. SAs may also authorize other alternatives for salad bar placement after the POS on a case-by-case basis. The USDA requires SFAs to submit such requests in writing to the SAs for approval.

Currently, NSD’s Field Services Unit Child Nutrition Consultants ensure that student selections are appropriately counted as part of the reimbursable meal during Coordinated Review Efforts. Alternatively, some schools serve the complete reimbursable meal before the POS, and salad bar selections become additional food choices at student discretion. The NSD is developing a list of acceptable alternatives for those SFAs that are unable to position their salad bar before the POS. In addition, the NSD is developing a process for the review and approval of other alternatives. Once finalized, the NSD will provide SFAs with detailed information on alternatives and procedures for case-by-case approvals.

Food Safety

The implementation of food safety standards and best practices to minimize the risk of food‑borne illness among students is important for all foods served in school meal programs. The National Food Service Management Institute’s fact sheet, Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools (, provides food safety recommendations for all aspects of produce handling from purchasing and receiving to serving and storage, as well as recommendations for specific types of produce.


To support the implementation of salad bars in school meal programs, USDA Policy Memo SP02-2010-Revised provides a number of resources and a Question and Answer section, which have been included with this MB. Additional resources include:

Additional Information

For additional information, or if you have questions regarding this MB, you may contact Laurie Pennings, Nutrition Education Consultant, by phone at 916-322-3813, or by e-mail at You may also obtain contact information for your Field Services Child Nutrition Consultant at 916-445-0850 or 800-952-5609.



Please refer to the following technical assistance resources referring to salad bars for more information:

  • Nutrient Analysis Protocols: How to Analyze Menus for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) School Meals Programs
  • School Meals Initiative Frequently Asked Questions—Provides detailed information on how to develop standardized recipes for salad bars. [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid.]
  • School Lunch Salad Bars—Executive Summary
  • Fruits and Vegetables Galore—Includes diagrams of salad bar setups and recipes for salads-to-go and salad shakers in the Tricks of the Trade: Preparing Fruits and Vegetables booklet.
  • Offer versus Serve (OVS)—Describes how salad bars work with OVS. [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid.]
  • Several Strategies May Lower Plate Waste in School Feeding Programs Report [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid.]
  • Best Practices: Handling Fresh Produce in Schools—The National Food Service Management Institute’s fact sheet provides specific food safety recommendations for produce.
  • Fruit and Vegetable Safety—Food safety resources that provide food safety information specifically for produce. [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid.]

Questions and Answers: Salad Bars in the National School Lunch Program

  1. What resources are available to assist school food service directors in implementing self-service salad bars in elementary schools?
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages the use of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals. Self-service salad bars are one approach that can be successfully included in the meal service when monitored closely to ensure safety. It is critical to review food safety resources and provide training for food service staff and students. Resources that might be particularly useful include:
  2. Are self-service salad bars still allowed in elementary schools?
    Yes, self-service salad bars may be used in elementary schools. It is critical to ensure that all schools with salad bars follow their food safety program to ensure safe foods for students. Factors such as layout and space availability in the serving area, equipment to protect the food from contamination, staffing to monitor the salad bar during meal service, and training staff and students must be considered in determining how to safely incorporate salad bars into the school meal program.

    The use of food guards or shields is one way to protect food from contamination. The National Sanitation Foundation International/American National Standard (NSFI/ANS) 2 for Food Equipment provides a standard that establishes the minimum food protection and sanitation requirements for the materials, design, fabrication, construction, and performance of food shields for use in elementary schools.

    Because food codes and regulations vary among local jurisdictions and states, it is important to check with your local or state health department to determine if there are specific guidelines that must be followed in your jurisdiction for the installation and use of salad bars.

  3. Are the NSF/ANSI Standards required?
    Meeting the NSF/ANSI standards is not a federal requirement. It is important to check with your local health inspector to determine what serving methods are acceptable in order to be in compliance with local or state requirements.

  4. Must salad bars be monitored for food safety?
    Self service of ready-to-eat foods which occur with salad bars can pose a food safety risk that can be reduced by supplying clean utensils and dispensers and by employee monitoring of the salad bar during the meal service to ensure that the utensils and dispensers are properly used. Trained food service staff members should monitor the salad bar, keep all surface areas clean, (i.e., quickly clean up spills), and ensure that students follow good food safety practices.

    Keeping the salad bar clean and safe is essential for students’ safety. It is important to check with your local or state health department to determine the specific guidelines that must be followed in your jurisdiction when monitoring a salad bar. Some jurisdictions adopt the 2009 FDA Food Code and use it as the basis of their state and local food safety regulations. The 2009 FDA Food Code has provisions that address consumer self-service operations such as salad bars. Paragraph 3-306.13 (C) specifically addresses what foods can be offered for consumer self-service, effective dispensing methods, and monitoring by food employees trained in safe operating procedures.

  5. What if we can’t afford additional labor costs to have food service staff monitor the salad bar?
    Keeping a salad bar safe and appealing requires monitoring. If a school is not able to provide food service staff or well-trained volunteers to monitor the salad bar during the meal service, pre-wrapped salad bar components may be an option to improve food safety.

  6. What steps can be taken to help students follow good food safety practices when using a salad bar?
    It is important to teach students about salad bar etiquette. This includes teaching children proper hand washing techniques and how to control transmission of harmful organisms by using tongs and staying above the sneeze guard. In addition to hand washing, students should be supervised to make sure they use good food handling practices while serving themselves at a salad bar. Reminder signs could be posted on the salad bar to reinforce good food handling practices.

  7. Will pre-wrapped salad bar components increase waste?
    Not necessarily. If schools serve pre-wrapped salad bar components that students like and are packaged in appropriate portions, food waste will be minimized. To reduce packaging waste, reusable or recyclable containers may be used.

  8. Will pre-wrapped (Grab ‘n Go) options ignore the importance of student choice?
    No. Pre-wrapped (Grab ‘n Go) options can be offered in a variety of ways (both portion sizes and product combinations) to provide students choices, i.e. selecting from a variety of pre-wrapped salad bar items.

  9. Will salad bar items be reimbursed?
    Yes, if the salad bar food items are served in the minimum amounts required by the meal pattern, meals containing foods from the salad bar will be reimbursable.

  10. What are the approved alternatives to placing salad bars after the point of service/sale?
    Check with your state agency. State agencies are encouraged to issue guidance that clearly identifies acceptable placement of salad bars relative to the point of sale.
Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, April 10, 2017
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