Schools required to 'Buy American'

Date: November 6, 2018 Posted by Amy Mail Twitter Facebook


This Election Day seems like the perfect time to remind districts that, as much as possible, you need to "Buy American" for your foodservice program. The William F. Goodling Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 1998 added a provision requiring school food authorities (SFAs) to purchase, to the maximum extent practicable, domestic commodities or products.  This Buy American provision supports the mission of the USDA's Child Nutrition Programs, which is "to serve children nutritious meals and support American agriculture." When you have your USDA Administrative Review, your reviewer will evaluate your compliance with the Buy American provision.

The provision leaves a little room for subjectivity with the language "maximum extent practicable." The USDA does offer exemptions when needed foods of US origins are not available and a suitable substitution cannot be made or the cost of American-produced foods are priced significantly higher than the same product from a foreign source. If you use foods that are non-compliant, you must have a documented explanation for the exception. The USDA Policy Memo states, "FNS has not defined a dollar amount or percentage triggering an exception requiring consideration of alternatives. Before utilizing an exception, alternatives to purchasing non-domestic food products should be considered."

Many districts rely on their distributors to inventory and supply products needed for menus. You may not easily know the origins of the food you receive or have the opportunity to substitute one ingredient for another based on origin. The USDA advises SFAs to include the Buy American provision in your procurement contracts and to confirm receipt of American-grown and processed foods. If you take receipt of non-domestic foods, ask your distributor for an explanation in writing/email that can be used as documentation for an exception.

Let's look more closely...We know kids love pineapple and bananas. But domestic sources for these perennial favorites are not sufficient to meet the demand from schools in the contiguous 48 states. According to the provision, schools either need to offer a suitable substitute from American sources or document the inability to buy the produce domestically. In the case of tropical fruits, the USDA may look for SFAs to substitute American-grown apples or oranges, or fruit canned/processed in the United States, before purchasing imported bananas or pineapple.

During either your procurement review or your USDA Administrative Review, your reviewer will verify your compliance with the Buy American provision by:

  1. reviewing your distributor contract for language specifying the provision
  2. reviewing distributors' bill of goods/delivery receipts and invoices to determine if domestic foods were ordered and delivered
  3. inspecting labels on a variety of food products in your storage facilities to confirm domestic purchasing and identify any that require exemption documentation

If a reviewer finds you're not in compliance with the Buy American provision, you and your distributor will be required to take corrective action. Repeat offenses could result in fines.

Official Source: USDA Policy Memo SP38-2017

Category: USDA compliance