Office for Food and Nutrition Programs

Share Tables and Reducing Food Waste in School Meal Programs

To:School Nutrition Directors and School Business Officials
From:Robert Leshin, Director
Office for Food and Nutrition Programs
Date:January 19, 2017

In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the United States 2030 National Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal to reduce, recycle, and recover food waste in half by 2030. School Food Authorities (SFAs) participating in the School Meal Programs should do their part by participating in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge and committing to reduce food waste in their schools. In addition to best practices such as marketing, taste testing, and optimal menu planning, share tables may also be utilized to achieve this goal. However, it is important to note that share tables should be viewed as a technique to reduce food waste and not as a cost-saving measure.

The Use of Share Tables in School Meal Programs

In June of 2016, USDA released the memo The Use of Share Tables in Child Nutrition Programs (SP 41-2016) regarding the practice of share tables in schools. USDA defines share tables as "tables or stations where children may return whole food or beverage items they choose not to eat." Share tables provide the opportunity for:
  • other children to take additional helpings of food at no extra cost.
  • food items left on the share table to be served and sold or claimed for reimbursement one additional time.
  • donation of food items to a non-profit organization.
There are many food safety concerns that must be considered when using share tables. Written approval from the local board of health must first be obtained and kept on file. In addition, all policies/procedures related to saving and sharing food items must be consistent with the SFA's food safety plan. This policy is consistent with share table procedures required by other Massachusetts Child Nutrition Programs. For any schools looking to implement share tables in their program, please see "Share Tables—Guidance for Schools in Massachusetts" for state specific information. If you have any questions please contact:
Nutrition Education and Training Programs

For additional tips on how to reduce food waste in your school, see these resources:

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U.S. Food Waste Challenge
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USDA's Creative Solutions to Ending School Food Waste
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USDA's infograph Reducing Food Waste: What Schools Can Do Today.
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USDA's Team Nutrition What You Can Do To Help Prevent Wasted Food
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USDA memo SP 11-2012: Guidance on the Food Donation Program in Child Nutrition Programs
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The Smarter Lunchroom Movement
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Last Updated: March 3, 2017

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