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Sodium

sodium provision of the final rule
What are the current requirements for sodium in school meals?

Current regulations require schools to meet Sodium Target 1A for school lunch and Sodium Target 1 for school breakfast. These limits, which apply to meals on average over the school week, are shown in the tables below:

Current National School Lunch Program Sodium Limits:
Age/Grade GroupTarget 1A:
Effective July 1, 2023
Grades K-5< 1,110 mg
Grades 6-8< 1,225 mg
Grades 9-12< 1,280 mg

 

Current School Breakfast Program Sodium Limits:
Age/Grade GroupTarget 1:
Effective July 1, 2022
Grades K-5< 540 mg
Grades 6-8< 600 mg
Grades 9-12< 640mg

 

What are the changes in the final rule for sodium in school meals?

In response to feedback from stakeholders, this final rule provides schools with plenty of time to gradually reduce sodium in school meals by instituting one achievable sodium reduction. The rule also includes a commitment to conduct a study on potential associations between sodium reduction and student participation.

  • For the next three school years, through school year 2026-27 (until June 30, 2027), schools will maintain current sodium limits (Sodium Target 1A for lunch and Sodium Target 1 for breakfast).
  • By school year 2027-28 (beginning July 1, 2027), schools will implement an approximate 15 percent reduction for lunch and an approximate 10 percent reduction for breakfast from current sodium limits.
National School Lunch Program Sodium Limits

Age/Grade Group

Current Sodium Limit:
In place through June 30, 2027

Sodium Limit:
Must be implemented by July 1, 2027

Grades K-5

< 1,110 mg< 935 mg

Grades 6-8

< 1,225 mg< 1,035 mg

Grades 9-12

< 1,280 mg< 1,080 mg

 

School Breakfast Program Sodium Limits

Age/Grade Group

Current Sodium Limit:
In place through June 30, 2027

Sodium Limit:
Must be implemented by July 1, 2027

Grades K-5

< 540 mg< 485 mg

Grades 6-8

< 600 mg< 535 mg

Grades 9-12

< 640 mg< 570 mg

These limits apply to the average amount of sodium in lunch and breakfast menus offered during a school week. Sodium limits do not apply per day, per meal, or per menu item. USDA encourages schools to gradually reduce sodium at lunch and breakfast prior to the implementation deadline by adjusting food preparation methods and purchasing lower sodium foods. USDA is also committed to providing technical assistance and support to schools working to implement the sodium reductions finalized in this rule.

How was USDA responsive to stakeholder feedback when making these changes?

USDA received tens of thousands of comments on the proposed sodium limits, a majority of which supported sodium reductions, as consuming too much sodium can have significant negative health impacts. Food and taste preferences develop at an early age, so limiting sodium in childhood – including in school meals – is important for life-long health.

USDA also listened to comments that noted sodium reduction in school meals is dependent on food product availability, and food product reformulation takes time and resources. Additionally, commenters raised concerns that students’ consumption of higher sodium foods outside of school can impact their acceptance of lower-sodium school meals.

USDA’s approach reflects an understanding that changes in school meals, including sodium reductions, must occur in the context of broader efforts to achieve improvements in diet quality for children and adults alike. That is why USDA took into account the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) voluntary sodium reduction goals for industry when developing this rule. Taken together, USDA and FDA actions are part of a government-wide effort to help reduce sodium in the food supply and promote public health. USDA expects sodium reduction in school meals to be achievable as more food manufacturers develop tasty products with less sodium for schools and the broader marketplace.

USDA also heard from stakeholders about the need for technical assistance and support to schools working to implement the sodium reductions finalized in this rule. While providing schools the assistance that they requested, USDA will also be responsive to the many research requests received during the comment period. USDA has committed to conducting a study on potential associations between sodium reduction and student participation.

Will sodium provisions in the Agriculture Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the President in March 2024 affect updates to school meals?

The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act is the bill from Congress that funds USDA through Sept. 30, 2024. Under the Appropriations Act, current school meals sodium limits may be maintained through school year 2026-27, and USDA may not require schools to reduce sodium to limits lower than the Target 2 requirements set in 2012 for school breakfast and school lunch.

The sodium updates made by the final rule are consistent with the Appropriations Act. Updated sodium requirements for school meals include a single sodium reduction of approximately 10 percent at breakfast and 15 percent at lunch, set to begin in school year 2027-28. These updates bring sodium limits down to the exact limits that were previously referred to as the Target 2 limits, issued in 2012.

Why did USDA decide to implement one sodium reduction for school lunch and breakfast?

Based on public input, this final rule gives schools and manufacturers even more time to reduce sodium compared to the proposed rule. The sodium reduction finalized in this rule falls between the first and second sodium reduction included in the proposed rule and reflects the Sodium Target 2 levels established in the 2012 final rule, a level many stakeholders commented was familiar and achievable.

USDA is providing about three years for implementation of the sodium reduction in response to public comments that suggested it takes about three years for manufacturers to reformulate products. Public comments also indicated that children are more likely to accept lower sodium school meals if the meals they consume outside of school are lower in sodium. To that end, other federal agencies are supporting efforts to improve dietary behaviors among the U.S. population. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking an iterative approach to gradually reduce sodium in the U.S. food supply that includes establishing voluntary sodium targets for industry, monitoring and evaluating progress, and engaging with stakeholders.

As recommended by numerous commenters, this final rule also commits to conducting a study on potential associations between sodium reduction in school meals and a student participation.

Page updated: April 24, 2024