Food Distribution Division


The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Distribution Program is a multipurpose program designed to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of people who participate in the program. In addition, it supports agriculture through price support and surplus removal programs. The foods are made available to designated state distributing agencies for distribution to eligible outlets such as school food authorities. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services - Food Distribution Division is one of these distributing agencies that orders food from USDA and arranges for the receipt, storage and distribution to school food authorities.

This handbook was created to provide descriptive on-site guidance for management in accordance with federal and state requirements, while participating in the Food Distribution Program.


A. USDA Regulations and Instructions

The Food Distribution Program is authorized by the U.S. Congress through several pieces of legislation. The primary pieces of legislation which enables the various commodities to be provided to institutions are:

Section 6 of the National School Lunch Act, which mandates a per meal commodity assistance rate for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP);

Section 32 of the Agricultural Act of 1935, which authorizes the purchase and distribution of perishable commodities in order to remove surplus items and stabilize farm prices; and

Section 416 of the Agricultural Act of 1949, which authorizes the purchase and distribution of commodities for the purpose of supporting farm prices.

Regulations are developed and issued by USDA based upon provisions contained in the enabling legislation. Copies of pertinent regulations (e.g., Code of Federal Regulations 210, 250, 252) are available upon request from the state distribution agency.

In addition to regulations, formal instructions and policy memoranda are issued to provide more detailed guidance in dealing with specific areas of the program.

The guidance contained in this handbook incorporates requirements for program administration identified in legislation, regulations, instructions, policy memoranda and guidance material on good management practices issued by both the Federal and State offices.

B. Commodity Specifications

FNS Instruction 716-1, Revision 1, "USDA Commodity Descriptions" contained "short" versions of the actual specifications used by the USDA to purchase foods for school food authorities. Copies of this instruction are available at the state distributing agency upon request. Specifications identify the product characteristics in terms that are mutually understood by the purchaser (USDA) and the vendor. Components of the specification may include:

1. Name of Item

2. Quality or official grade

3. Kind, style and/or variety

4. Product composition

5. Special instructions

6. Conditions

7. Size of the product

8. Packaging and pack units

School food authorities and/or schools may be able to utilize these specifications in their procurement activities, although some products described may not be available on the commercial market to individual purchasers. The state distributing agency will provide updates to the instruction as they are available.

The Food Distribution Division of USDA published a "Buy American" rule on July 21, 1988,implementing Section 3(h) of Public Law 100-237. The rule stipulates in 7 CFR Part 250.23 that when purchasing food products using Federal funds, recipient agencies (except those in the noncontiguous State and territories) shall, whenever possible, purchase only food products that are produced in the United States. The term "Food products produced in the United States" is defined as "An unmanufactured food product produced in the United States or a food product that is manufactured in the United States."

Exceptions to the "Buy American" requirement are allowed when: (1) the recipients have unusual or ethnic food preferences that can only be met through purchases of products not produced in the United States; (2) products are not produced or manufactured in the United States in sufficient and reasonable available quantities of a satisfactory quality; or (3) the cost of the domestic-produced food product is significantly higher than that of the foreign product.

C. Commodity Fact Sheets

Commodity fact sheets are available for each commodity item; each fact sheet provides the following information about the product:

1. Ingredients

2. Pack size including the number of units per case

3. Yield per unit (number of servings) (P.A. 1331 - Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs)

4. Usage suggestions

5. Storage guidelines

6. Nutritional composition

7. Preparation tips

8. Recipes

The Food Distribution Division will provide fact sheets as new commodities become available upon request, or you can download them from our web site.

D. USDA Standardized Recipes

The standardized recipes produced by USDA for the school nutrition programs can be referred to for ideas on utilizing commodities. These recipes are disseminated by the State Child Nutrition Program director's office.

Previous Page

Return to Food Distribution Home PageReturn to
Food Distribution Home Page

Next Page