'Slow Cook' roasts D.C. schools for food rebates
Ed Bruske, "The Slow Cook" blogger, offers a revealing look at rebates in the food service industry, including the $1 million that DCPS has collected over the past couple of years from Chartwells, the giant food service contractor that handles school meals. Rebating, a common practice in the food industry, is used by manufacturers to steer purchasing agents toward their brands. Under federal law, Chartwells is required to credit DCPS for whatever rebates it receives for the purchases it makes on the school system's behalf.
Bruske suggests that rebates is a polite word for "kickbacks," and that they are used "to help imprint processed and often sugary food brands in the minds of young children. Rebates help explain why kids in D.C. schools routinely are served sugary cereals such as Kellogg's Apple Jacks, and treats like Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, Pepperidge Farm Giant Goldfish Grahams, and flavored milk from Cloverland Dairy that is nearly the sugar equivalent of Coke or Mountain Dew."
Bruske, who based part of his research on Freedom of Information Act requests, also said that DCPS was notably incurious about the exact source of the rebate money. The agency receives a monthly lump sum line item on its Chartwells invoices, but nothing is broken down by brand. He said that while Jeff Mills, the school system's newly hired food services chief, "was said to be disturbed by the potentially corrosive effect" on school purchases, no one at DCPS had ever asked Chartwells for a breakdown.
D.C. schools Chief Operating Officer Tony Tata called the "kickback" reference "irresponsible," and that Bruske "is just flat wrong" about the failure to ask for an itemization. He said that he began pushing Chartwells for more details last October, and that when an initial response was not complete, he asked again. The data only recently arrived, he said.
Bruske said that wasn't his understanding from DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway when he asked. He also said the agency's "opaque" approach to sharing information was frustrating.
"I've asked them a million times to talk about these things and it's like pulling teeth," he said.
Mills is in the process of reviewing and approving all menu selections for the upcoming school year, with an eye toward having them meet or exceed nutrition standards set by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, which are more rigorous than those of USDA, Tata said.
"And the rebate, if there is one, will not factor at all into our decision making," he said.
As Bruske noted in his piece, DCPS has announced that it will discontinue serving flavored milks and sugary cereals.
Under pressure from parents and the D.C. Council to improve food offerings, DCPS is launching two pilot programs this fall at two groups of seven schools each. It is evaluating bids from companies interested in providing better portable meals to schools with limited kitchen facilities, and another to produce fresh-cooked meals from a central kitchen.
"The idea is to create some competition," Tata said.
Follow D.C. Schools Insider every day at washingtonpost.com/dcschools.
And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers,
please check out our new Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed.
Posted by: euclidarms | July 12, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bidzill | July 13, 2010 2:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: NeedAMap | July 13, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: euclidarms | July 14, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.