WA schools label ham a ‘red’ food, limits canteen sales

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Parents in Western Australia are “confused” and “overwhelmed” as a new school term begins with a shock ban on a beloved canteen staple: the ham-and-cheese sandwich.

The WA Department of Health has reconfigured its “traffic lights” system for classifying food and drink in the state’s public schools, moving ham and other processed red meat from an earlier “amber” label to “red”, limiting its sale in canteens.

WA School Canteen Association chief Megan Sauzier told NCA NewsWire the move to red had caused workers at canteens, a majority of whom are volunteers and parents themselves, “concern” and confusion.

“They are a little confused, I think would be fair to say,” she said on Monday.

“They need things that are easy to prepare and when that (a ham-and-cheese sandwich) is served alongside a broad range of other healthy green items, like fruits and vegetables and meals and pastas, then ham as an amber, we see as being acceptable.”

“When parents are packing a lunch box and they are having a ham-and-cheese and salad sandwich once a week, that is OK.”

Ms Sauzier said the department had introduced a new category of food items called ‘selected red’, which means they can be sold at canteens twice a week.

A list of ‘red’ items, which includes unhealthy offerings like soft drinks and chocolate bars, are completely off the canteen menu and have been banned since 2007.

Ms Sauzier said she was proud of her state’s policy on healthy eating at schools, but expressed concern the new ‘selected red’ category could see kids’ health going “backwards”.

Other items classified in the selected red group include pastries, pies and sausage rolls.

“At the moment, they (volunteers and parents) are feeling confused and overwhelmed with one more thing they have got to get their head around and understand and that causes them concern,” she said.

The new policy was announced in December last year.

A fact sheet released by the department states the reclassification of some foods from amber to red was designed to align schools Australian Dietary Guidelines, the Australian Curriculum and a federal government health council guide to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink.

“(The new labels) do not regulate what children bring to school in their lunch box, only what is sold at school,” the fact sheet states.

“The department of education does not support the inspection of children’s lunch boxes for nutritional content.”

Green food and drink items include all dairy products, canned vegetables and legumes, plain pizza bases, tinned fish, vegetables, falafels and tempeh, cheese and cracker snack packs and plain popcorn, according to a fact sheet released

Amber foods now reclassified as red include hot potato and sweet potato chips and wedges, ham, sausages and frankfurters, pies and sausage rolls, chips and savoury biscuits, cookies, cakes, desserts and sweet pastries and fruit juice slushies.

Food items that now need to be served with at least half a serving of salad or vegetables include chicken wings and nuggets, burger patties, rissoles, meatballs and fish cakes, pressed chicken, plant-based meat alternatives such as vegetarian sausages and ready-made hot meals.

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