clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

City blocks access to nutrition information, says a list is coming

What you can no longer find on the DOE's website: nutritional information, including sugar content, on the chocolate milk served in city school cafeterias. This screen shot was taken earlier today, before the site was blocked.
What you can no longer find on the DOE's website: nutritional information, including sugar content, on the chocolate milk served in city school cafeterias. This screen shot was taken earlier today, before the site was blocked.

The ingredients inside the city’s school cafeteria food are once again a mystery.

Hours after GothamSchools published a link to a list of school cafeteria food ingredients today, the city removed it, claiming that the list was never meant to be public.

The fact that the public could briefly bypass a city firewall to reach a nutritional directory was first reported today by GothamSchools Community section contributor Elizabeth Puccini and WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s James Subudhi. (Puccini previously posted the link on the site of NYC Green Schools, a group she founded.) The directory revealed that some food served in cafeterias does not meet the city’s own nutrition guidelines it set last year for bake sale snacks.

The directory included ingredient lists and nutritional information for more than 300 items served in public school cafeterias. The link now directs to a message that reads, “The resource you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.”

Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said the directory was an internal link to a website the city is building that will eventually publish nutrition information, but that it will not release the information it has already collected now.

“There is no list and never was,” Feinberg said. “We are creating one.”

Feinberg would not say when city officials estimated that the information would be released publicly. “This is a work in progress and when it is completed, we will release it,” she said.

School districts are not legally required to publish lists of the ingredients in their school cafeteria food. The city currently publishes a list of some nutrition information — including calories, fat, sodium, protein and fiber content — for 312 items on school menus. The directory exposed today included all of that information, plus ingredient lists, FDA Nutrition Fact labels and sugar content, for 321 items. (A list of all of the foods included in the directory, captured today before the site was removed, is available here.)

“It is our understanding that no other district [publishes ingredient information],” Feinberg said.

In fact, at least one other school district, the 170,000-student Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia, does publish a list of ingredients in its school foods on its district website.

A spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, Diane Pratt-Heavner, noted that Fairfax’s list was expensive to put together and that in some budget-strapped districts, the administrative costs of compiling that data can drain money away from the effort of improving the nutritional content of food.

The city does not provide alternate meals to students with food allergies. According to Food and Drug Administration guidelines, districts are required to provide special meals to students who require them because of a disability, though the agency notes that students with food allergies are not considered to have a disability unless their intolerance prompts life-threatening reactions.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.