Cafeteria’s monopoly on selling food explained by state laws

March 21, 2016 — by Fiona Sequeira

According to the California Department of Education’s Competitive Foods and Beverages policy, public school districts can approve non-cafeteria sales for up to four school days per year. 

Senior Felicia Hung, co-president of Interact Club, recently contemplated selling In-N-Out burgers during lunch to raise money for the club. She quickly remembered, though, that she would not be allowed to do so, as only the school cafeteria is allowed to sell food and beverages on campus at break and lunch.

Hung’s predicament is not unusual. Several clubs on campus have sought to stake a claim on the lucrative lunch scene and sell food or drink for profit, but are prevented from doing so due to state laws that the school must abide by.

According to the California Department of Education’s Competitive Foods and Beverages policy, public school districts can approve non-cafeteria sales for up to four school days per year. The sales may take place at any time during the school day, but student organizations cannot prepare the food or beverages on campus or sell the same items that are sold by the food service program. On these four allocated days, non-student groups who choose to sell, such as the PTA, do not have to abide by these guidelines. As a result of this code, the school cafeteria has a virtual monopoly on food sales on campus.

“We generally take advantage of [these four days] through our All School Bar-B-Q, Club Rush, and a few other times where we’ve had food trucks on campus for spirit weeks like Spring Fling,” principal Paul Robinson said.

Due to the rule, popular pearl milk tea fundraisers by class offices or clubs are restricted to specific times such as during seventh period or after school.

While the rule can cause frustration, ASB secretary Spring Ma, who recently wanted to sell food during Powderpuff lunch games to fundraise for the junior class, understands why it is necessary.

“It's a pretty fair system,” she said. “The cafeteria shouldn't have to face frequent competition from other clubs and class officers, who can sell anything and don’t have to meet nutritional requirements. Ideally, though, there should be allowed a couple of more lunch time opportunities for the whole school to sell lunch because they allow clubs to make a good profit, bring our school together and provide a change for the underclassmen who always eat on campus.”

Although the cafeteria is the only place where students are allowed to purchase food and beverages on campus, it has more lenient standards than most other schools in the area. Most of these schools are bound by the strict nutritional standards of the National School

Lunch Program, a federal program that assists schools in providing lunches at reduced prices. 

According to Cafeteria Food Manager Pam Carlino, there are only a handful of students between Saratoga and Los Gatos High Schools who are on “free-reduced,” or qualify for the program, which is based on family income. Because the school would not receive significant reimbursement, it opted for an exemption waiver from the program. Consequently, the cafeteria is not held to any federal rules about what it can or cannot sell.

“We still try to purchase low fat and whole wheat products whenever possible and avoid selling foods that wouldn’t be backed by the national program, such as candy or soda,” Carlino said.

Carlino is a member of a co-operative of several school districts, including the Alameda and Santa Clara Counties, that can purchase mass quantities of food at reduced prices. Carlino estimates that the cafeteria serves approximately 400 students per school day.

Although the school is not subject to government audits about the products it sells, Carlino noted that certain companies can be fined for selling their products to public schools, even if the purchasing school is not on the National School Lunch Program.

“I couldn’t even sell Odwalla this year because it contains too much sugar,” Carlino said. “If Odwalla sold to our school district, the company would be fined by the federal government.”

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