Suffolk OKs bill on healthy food options

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You can have your cake, and kale, too. Concession stands at Suffolk County parks and beaches, as well as vending machines in county buildings, will be required to offer healthy options under a bill passed by the county legislature.

"I don't want to be the food police. I want some healthy options for our residents to choose if they want to," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the bill's sponsor. She had worked with nutritionists from Stony Brook University on the bill, which passed 11-7 Tuesday night. A spokesman said County Executive Steve Bellone would sign the measure.

Opponents said the bill was a heavy handed attempt by government to regulate choice.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he'd support making concession and vending machine items healthier, by banning trans fats, for example.

Hahn's bill sets out limits for sodium in soups and the minimum amount of fiber in at least two-thirds of potato and grain-based snacks.

"It's quite another thing when you impose an exhaustive list of requirements on vendors that couldn't possibly be followed," Cilmi said. "To say that's overkill is an understatement."

Hahn added an "M&M exemption" that still allows some sugary treats in machines.

An earlier version would have prevented the candy from passing muster.

The bill sets out in detail the health requirements of food, down to the percentage of foods that have to contain under a set amount of calories, sodium and sugar. County concessions have to offer at least four fresh fruits or vegetables, and at least one "leafy-green salad" with one vinegar-based dressing. A third of breakfast breads can have no more than 300 calories per serving.

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In vending machines, at least 66 percent of snacks can have no more than 250 calories.

Another two-thirds must contain no more than 7 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 10 grams of sugar.

The bill exempts restaurants at Suffolk-owned golf courses, county jails, the Long Island Ducks Stadium and Suffolk County Community College campuses. It applies only as new contracts with vendors come up.

Hahn said she worked with experts to make the bill as specific as possible.

"It would be one thing to write a bill that doesn't do much," she said. "If I left it up to the Parks Department, I'm not sure they would've known."

The Beach Hut concessions at Meschutt in Hampton Bays already added a kale salad, with craisins and sunflower seeds, in anticipation of the bill, said chef and operator Robert Marsilio. "We were pre-planning for this," he said. The kale salad has been a hit in Hampton Bays, less so at Smithpoint. But the Beach Huts also still sell French fries, hot dogs and hamburgers, he said.

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