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Applying Geographic Preferences in Procurement

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SNP-13-2009

Attention: Food Service Director, Business Official, District and County Superintendents

Date: August 2009

Subject: Applying Geographic Preferences in Procurement

References: National School Lunch Act, 42 United States Code, Section 1758(j); United States Department of Agriculture Policy Memo-SP-30-2008

This Management Bulletin provides information on a change in federal law that encourages School Food Authorities (SFAs) operating the School Nutrition Programs to purchase unprocessed, locally grown and locally raised agricultural products.

As amended, the National School Lunch Act (NSLA) allows SFAs receiving funds through the Child Nutrition Programs to apply a geographic preference when procuring unprocessed, locally grown or locally raised agricultural products. This applies to operators of all of the School Nutrition Programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Special Milk Program.

While the statute permits SFAs to apply a geographic preference to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate, it does not require them to purchase locally grown and locally raised agricultural products, or to apply a geographic preference in their procurements of these products. Moreover, states cannot require through law or policy that SFAs apply a geographic preference when conducting these procurements, because the NSLA grants this authority directly to SFAs.

The SFA responsible for the procurement has the discretion to determine whether and how a geographic preference meets its needs. Additionally, the procuring SFA may define the area for any geographic preference (e.g., state, county, region, etc.).

Geographic preference may only be applied to the procurement of agricultural products that:

  • Are unprocessed
  • Are locally grown and locally raised
  • Have not been cooked, seasoned, frozen, canned, or combined with any other products

The term “unprocessed” refers to agricultural products that do not have significant value added components. Unprocessed agricultural products may include:

  • Those that require minimal handling and preparation that might be necessary to present an agricultural product to a sponsor in usable form, such as washing vegetables, bagging greens, butchering livestock and poultry, pasteurizing milk, and putting eggs in a carton
  • A minimal amount of preservatives on locally grown produce, which may be needed for the purpose of preventing spoilage

It is also important to note that all milk served in the School Nutrition Programs must be pasteurized and meet State and local standards. Pasteurized milk is the only dairy product for which geographic preference may be applied.

While an SFA may use a geographic preference to encourage the purchase of locally grown and locally raised products, this provision does not eliminate the requirement for procurements to be conducted in a manner that allows for free and open competition, consistent with the sponsor’s responsibility to be responsible stewards of federal funds.

If you have questions or would like assistance in preparing bid documents and contracts, please contact the contract specialist assigned to your county as listed on the form Caseload, located in the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System under Applications, Download Forms, or send an e-mail to

Questions:   School Food Service Contracts Unit | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, August 2, 2016
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