The Power of Data Sharing in Statewide Systems: The Tomato Paste Story

We share things like meals, recipes, and advice with our circle of friends. But have you ever thought about sharing something that would have a bigger impact beyond just your immediate coffee group? Today, let’s discuss the value of sharing something that many consider just as valuable as both time and money – data.

Share More Data, Save More Time

I am referring to sharing basic data used in our school nutrition programs, particularly menu planning data. By and large, school food authorities (SFAs) use essentially the same base products in their child nutrition programs. For example, there are only so many types of tomato pastes. So why should each SFA spend time and energy entering the details of their tomato paste into menu planning software when their neighbor has already entered the same data? Shouldn’t there be a way to share this workload so that everyone could be more efficient?

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Whether entering data for each ingredient takes 2 minutes or 10, that’s valuable time that can be spent on something else to help improve child nutrition programs. Let’s work out the math: If we meet in the middle and assume 5 minutes per detailed ingredient entry, 12 ingredients would take an hour. Even if an SFA only uses 24 shared items that they do not have to enter themselves, they would gain 2 hours back into their operations. Now let’s say that 100 SFAs saved 2 hours each – that’s almost 6 weeks of total labor saved! 24 shared items is an extremely conservative figure considering that most purchasing co-ops or buying groups join ranks to purchase hundreds of the same items.

In addition to labor hours saved, there are benefits to data sharing when it comes to onboarding new personnel who may be learning the ropes. New food service directors and menu planners can get off to a great start from the very beginning with little or no effort. By utilizing shared data, these newcomers can take advantage of years of experience embodied by their colleagues, both near and far, even if they have not yet built a personal network in the industry.

Data Sharing – A New Best Practice

Sharing data is a form of collaboration and a great way to spread best practices. Shared menu-planning data can go far beyond simply sharing ingredient data. With the help of today’s most advanced software, it is easy to share recipes, menus, and even full menu cycles. I’m not talking about just a pdf of suggested menus, but sharing all of the data that sets a working menu cycle into motion from base ingredients through recipes, and the ability to plan for the appropriate number of meals served all in one tool/place. Successful and compliant menu cycles can be shared state-wide for the benefit of all SFAs, regardless of their current successes or challenges.

Why State Agencies Should Love Data Sharing, Too

SFAs aren’t the only ones that benefit from data-sharing practices. State Agencies can also gain efficiencies when data is shared state-wide. We can bet that during the Administrative Review cycle, any time-savers would be more than welcome. When menu-planning data is shared state-wide, ingredient details can be checked once for accuracy rather than every time a district uses that information. For example, instead of verifying data for the same tomato paste at 100 different SFAs, it can be verified once for all SFAs. Using our math example above, the State Agency can also save about 6 weeks of labor.

Sharing menu-planning data on a large scale, such as across an entire state, is beneficial for all involved from a time and effort perspective. Collaboration can encourage best practices.

The values are endless when it comes to a statewide solution for you and your SFAs.