U.S. Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Adam Putnam (R-FL) introduced a bill yesterday that would increase the amount of fruits and vegetables served in school breakfasts and lunches across the country.

The Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009 would require that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implement a plan to up the amount of fruits and vegetables purchased for school feeding programs. The bill would also encourage the use of salad bars and promote farm-to-cafeteria programs.

“USDA spends more than $10 billion a year on school feeding programs, but only a small fraction goes to fruits and vegetables,” said Representative Farr after introducing the legislation. “The federal government talks about the food pyramid and healthy eating, then spends billions on unhealthy food. It’s time we put our money where our mouth is and address the poor quality of food in our schools.”

The bill instructs the USDA to put in place a plan to promote the use of salad bars in schools and authorizes $10 million for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 to help schools buy salad and fruit and vegetable bars for their cafeterias.

“The introduction of this legislation is an important step calling attention to the simple, but powerful role fruit and vegetable bars in schools can have in improving kids’ health,” said Tom Stenzel, CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, which represents the vast majority of the produce industry.

“Research has shown that school children significantly increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables when given a variety of choices in a school salad bar,” added Stenzel. “When offered multiple fresh fruit and vegetable choices, children respond by trying new item, incorporating greater variety into their diets, and increasing their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

Could more fresh food increase the risk of foodborne illness in schools?

When asked about whether United Fresh was concerned about the possibility of more foodborne illness outbreaks from introducing more raw food into the federal school lunch program, David Gombas, vice president of food safety and technology for the group, expressed confidence that existing food handling procedures in schools could handle the shift.

“Every school has to have food handling policies in place. It may be different with the salad bars, they hay have to change their rules, but we’re not worried about it,” added Gombas.

The measure is currently a standalone piece of legislation, but it is expected that Farr and Putnam will push to have the language added to next year’s Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.