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Offering RAs the Required USDA Foods

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin
Purpose: Beneficial Information

To: Food Distribution Program Recipient Agencies

Number: USDA-FDP-01-2013

Attention: Food Service Directors

Date: January 2013

Subject: Offering School Food Authorities the Required Value and Variety of U.S. Department of Agriculture Foods, and Efficient and Cost Effective Distribution

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Policy Memo FD-125

This Management Bulletin (MB) shares U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidance for states with recipient agencies (RA) to ensure that all RAs receive their planned assistance level and maximize their use of USDA Foods to meet nutrition standards in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

All states must offer to RAs, to the extent practical, the full variety of USDA Foods that the USDA makes available for the NSLP. In accordance with Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 250.14(a), states must use the most efficient and cost-effective distribution system for providing USDA Foods to RAs.

Request-driven Ordering of USDA Foods

States must use a request-driven ordering system that permits RAs to receive, to the extent practical, USDA Foods that best meet the needs of their school food service operation. Such a request-driven ordering system must include the following elements:

  • Ensure that all RAs have the opportunity to provide input at least annually in determining what USDA Foods the state will order from the full list of available USDA Foods. Although not every food on the USDA Foods Available List must be made available for ordering, states must ensure that, based on input received from RAs, the types and forms of USDA Foods preferred by RAs are made available.

  • Permit RAs to submit orders periodically throughout the school year, as USDA Foods become available, to the extent that entitlements allow. In accordance with Section 6(e) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, at least 12 percent of the total cash reimbursements and USDA Foods assistance provided in the NSLP in a school year must be provided as USDA Foods. In order to comply with this legislative provision, the state may be required to purchase additional USDA Foods in the latter portion of the school year.

  • Offer the full variety of USDA Foods to RAs, to the extent practical, by including bulk USDA Foods to be delivered to an approved processor for processing into end products.

  • Inform RAs of processing options available to them at least annually, consistent with 7 CFR Section 250.24(g), and facilitate RA procurement of end products in the easiest manner possible. 

Efficient and Cost-effective Distribution of USDA Foods

In order to ensure that USDA Foods are distributed to RAs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, states must take the following actions:

  • Arrange for direct shipments of USDA Foods to RAs to the extent practical, as direct shipments are generally more efficient and cost-effective for RAs.

  • In arranging for direct shipments, states must provide for split shipments between RAs if individual RA orders do not constitute a full truckload. As indicated in 7 CFR Section 250.58(a), states may not prohibit the use of split shipments in determining the cost-effectiveness of distribution of USDA Foods. Split shipments should be coordinated with another state, as feasible, if they cannot be arranged between two or more RAs within the state. As many as three delivery stops can be made on each split shipment. As a general guideline, the minimum split drop-off is one-quarter truckload quantity.

  • RAs often perform activities collectively (as in a school cooperative) in the interest of efficiency and economy. Such activities may include ordering, receipting for shipments, and storage of USDA Foods. States should, to the extent feasible, facilitate the performance of activities relating to USDA Foods by two or more RAs in a collective manner. This may be especially helpful to small RAs, which may have limited storage capacity or lack kitchens for meal preparation.

USDA Foods and the Nutrition Standards in the NSLP

In accordance with the final rule published in the Federal Register on January 26, 2012, "Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs", RAs must make more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains available, and meet other revised nutrition standards, in the school meals. USDA Foods play an important role in helping RAs to meet the nutritional standards for school lunches and to moderate the cost of providing such meals. USDA Foods available for use in the NSLP include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain, low-fat, and low-sodium foods.

The Food Distribution Program is committed to offering RAs the full variety of USDA Foods and allowing RAs to choose the most efficient and cost-effective ordering and distribution option for receiving USDA Foods.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact Amy Bell, Child Nutrition Consultant, by phone at 916-322-5051 or 800-952-5609, or by e-mail at; or Sherry Tam, Child Nutrition Consultant, by phone at 916-324-9875 or 800-952-5609, or by e-mail at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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