With more than 31,000 comments received by the end of the comment period on April 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed regulation on school food sold in vending machines and a la carte was attracting heavy interest and strong opinions from nearly everyone.

Unveiled in February the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in Schools” plan stipulates that food sold in schools must be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product, protein food, a whole-grain product or a combination food that contains at least a quarter cup of fruit or vegetable and meet a range of calorie of nutrient requirements.

Industry advocates were supportive of the USDA’s proposed restrictions.

“This is one more step in improving kids’ diets and presenting more fruits and vegetables to kids,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del. A recent positive evaluation of the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the USDA’s earlier update to nutrition standards for school meals and the ongoing industry effort to place salad bars in schools are other gains, she said.

“Little by little we are improving every place that kids and food connect at school, and there is more to be done,” Means said.

In comments to the USDA, the United Fresh Produce Association said the proposed standards should apply to all snacks and beverages sold in schools, across the school campus and throughout the school day.

The next step for the USDA would be for the USDA to issue an interim final rule on school snacks, according to Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh. DiSogra said in an e-mail that the heavy volume of comments may require some time for the USDA to evaluate and then draft an interim final rule.

DiSogra speculated that an interim final rule on school snacks could be released by spring of 2014, with an effective date of July 1, 2015.