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USDA bans deep fryers in employee cafeterias

Monday - 2/4/2013, 3:27pm  ET

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is cutting down on fried foods with a new plan to eliminate deep fryers from the federal department's cafeterias.

The employee dining overhaul is due to the USDA's desire to meet the standards established by the Dietary Guidelines for Americas, which were developed collaboratively by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Like many employers, USDA is taking important steps to improve our cafeteria to enhance the quality and healthfulness of food available for our employees to purchase," says USDA Departmental Management Assistant Secretary Gregory Parham in a news release.

The two USDA cafeterias in D.C. - including the Whitten Building and the South Building at 14th Street and Independence Avenue SW - serve about 40,000 to 50,000 people each month.

In addition to banning deep-fried food options, the USDA will also establish healthy menu requirements with a new food vendor. The goal of the menu revamp is to improve the cafeterias by enhancing the quality and healthfulness of the food.

"The new vendor will also include food produced by farmers in the region and promote sustainability by encouraging use of bio-based products in cafeteria operations, which is consistent with the Department's ongoing work," Parham says.

Devin King works at the USDA and says he is happy with the decision to ban the deep fryers.

"We're the agricultural building, so we should set a good example," he says.

"It sends a good message to the public that healthy eating is important," says Tony Jackson, another USDA employee who welcomes the new changes.

Parham assures employees that less healthy food options, such as hamburgers, pizza and French fries, will still be available for employees and public visitors who wish to choose those options. Additionally, the department will seek feedback from employees on the new changes.

USDA employee Bob Griffiths is withholding judgment on the new changes, at least for a few days.

"I'll see how it tastes, and if I want fried food, I'll go over to (the U.S. Department of Energy)," he says.

The new vendor and the new menu guidelines will take effect Feb. 4; the changes will take place over the course of five weekends without any interruption in food service.

The USDA says deep fryers will be eliminated from the kitchens because they are not needed by the new contractor, as indicated in the solicitation response.

WTOP's Kathy Stewart contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)