County bill would require healthier options from food vendors

Legislator Kara Hahn has proposed legislation that would regulate county food vendors. (Courtesy photo)
Legislator Kara Hahn has proposed legislation that would regulate county food vendors. (Courtesy photo)

A bill up for a public hearing at Tuesday’s meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature would mandate that certain county food contractors maintain a healthier standard in their offerings to the public.

“Obesity is an epidemic throughout the United States among both children and adults,” reads a measure sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “Improving the food offerings available at county facilities will also showcase our vibrant local farming community, expose residents to local and local organic foods and produce and contribute to the improvement of Long Island’s economy.”

Ms. Hahn’s bill would affect beach vendors countywide, as well as the cafeteria at the County Center in Riverside. In a recent interview, the legislator said her aim isn’t to ban goodies for those with a sweet tooth but rather to highlight healthier options.

“I believe you shouldn’t outlaw the bad stuff, but we can at least provide healthier options so families can choose to eat well,” she said.

The bill up for discussion next Tuesday, July 29, has been revised to reflect that and requires that two-thirds of all snacks sold through vending machines contain less than 10 grams of added sugars. A previous version of the measure banned all items from vending machines that contained more than a specified amount of sugars.

Water must also fill the two best-selling slots in beverage vending machines — meaning the spots near the top, at the customer’s eye level — according to the proposal.

Other health-conscious standards outlined in the measure specify that beverages with more than 25 calories per eight-ounce serving can occupy no more than two vending machine slots; two-thirds of the available snacks must have no more than 250 calories per package; and all snacks must be free of trans fats.

Significant county-run facilities would be exempt from the legislation’s mandates, including Suffolk County Community College campuses, the Vanderbilt Museum, Suffolk County correctional facilities and Suffolk County golf courses where food and beverages are served by waitstaff.

But some legislators have voiced concern that the new standards could amount to overregulation of the county’s vendors.

“I think government goes a little too far when it starts dictating what food people can and can’t eat,” said Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip).

Mr. Cilmi, who supports serving healthier food, disagrees with the imposed aspect of the legislation.

“This bill requires certain items to be offered. If they don’t sell, do we still require vending machines to offer them? To me, it doesn’t make sense at all,” he said, noting that companies should be able to offer the items they desire.

The requirements — should they be approved by the county — would not take effect immediately and would apply only to new or renewing vendor contracts.

Next Tuesday’s meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.