Fresh-cut apple slices are coming back in a big way to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s child feeding programs.

The USDA plans to purchase of 3.5 million pounds of fresh-cut apples by summer. That translates to an estimated 28 million 2-ounce bags of fresh cut apple slices.

The USDA  issued an invitation to bid on 217,800 cartons of 100-count 2-ounce bags of sliced apples, nearly 15,000 cartons of 64-count 2-ounce bags and 27,300 cases of 200-count 2-ounce bags.

Offers from the trade must be submitted by Dec. 17 and the USDA plans to award the bids by Dec. 23, according to the release.

In an e-mail to the industry, the USDA reported that schools in 10 states are ordering fresh-cut apples, asking for 3.5 million pounds valued at about $5 million. Deliveries are scheduled from Dec. 26 through June 20.

The fresh-cut purchases are part of an $18.6 million purchase of apples and apple products announced in November by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA spokesman Jimmie Turner said.

The announcement follows a USDA purchase of 2.9 million pounds of fresh-cut apples in March.

“We are thrilled to see the invitation to bid come out,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.  “The fresh-cut sliced apples are very popular with the students and for that reason we have been asking for several years that the USDA purchase significantly more fresh-cut fruits and vegetables and our goal is to see fresh-cut sliced apples and baby carrots available to all schools by next year,” DiSogra said.

Because fresh-sliced apples and baby carrots are popular with children, DiSogra said the result will be increased consumption.

“It is certainly good news for the industry,” said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va. “It is very good for the industry and good for the kids.”

However, Foster said she doesn’t think the fresh-cut apple purchase – because it is an ongoing program and is demand driven by schools - should be included as part of the bonus buy announced in November. Foster said bonus buys – funded by Section 32 funds - are extended to help producers struggling with ample inventories and low prices.

Foster said there are no details yet from USDA about an expected purchase of whole, fresh apples to assist growers.

Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee, said USDA purchases of fresh and processed apple products are appreciated during a bumper crop year for the state of Michigan.

“We’re real excited about the fresh-cut purchases,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to get kids to snack on an apples.”

Meanwhile, Turner said in an e-mail that invitations to bid on baby carrots could be issued by the USDA by the end of December.