Your Role in Adhering to Buy American


The Buy American provision is an important aspect of the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, and there continues to be a large emphasis on it during administrative reviews. It’s a topic that’s not going away, so foodservice directors should make it a consistent focus.

What is the Buy American Provision?

Commodities and foods that support the Buy American provision must be substantially produced and processed within the United States. “Substantial” is defined as “over 51% of the final processed product consists of agricultural commodities that were grown domestically.” Schools need to consider how this affects processed and unprocessed foods:

  • Unprocessed foods or agricultural commodities must be domestic.
  • Processed foods must be processed in the United States using domestic ingredients and result in over 51 percent domestic content, by weight or volume.

Exceptions to the Buy American Provision

There are two instances when adherence to the Buy American provision does not need to be maintained, but such occurrences are considered rare. These exceptions are based on availability and cost. The USDA defines them as follows:

Product availability: The product is not produced or manufactured in the U.S. in sufficient and reasonably available quantities of satisfactory quality.
Product cost: Competitive bids reveal the cost of a US product is significantly higher than a foreign product. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has not defined what “significantly higher” means.

Schools that choose to execute an exception for either reason noted above must provide documentation supporting their choice. Acceptable forms of documentation may include e-mails or detailed notes from a phone conversation with a distributor or vendor.

Furthermore, before considering an exception, the SFA should explore alternative products or items that are domestically sourced or meet the Buy American Provision. The USDA notes several questions including these considerations, which should be taken before utilizing an exception:

  • “Are there other domestic sources for this product?”
  • “Is there a domestic product that could be easily substituted, if the non-domestic product is less expensive?”
  • “Am I soliciting bids for this product at the best time of year? If I contracted earlier or later in the season, would prices and/or availability change?”

YOU Are Responsible

Many school programs may receive products from a contract management group or use a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) to aid in their item selection. In those cases, regardless of who is purchasing the food, compliance with the Buy American Provision remains the responsibility of the School Foodservice Authority (SFA). 

And remember: just because a product is made by a well-known U.S. brand does not mean it will meet the Buy American provision. Similarly, just because an item is carried by a U.S. foodservice distributor, it’s not guaranteed to be compliant.

Monitoring Compliance

School Food Authorities are responsible for monitoring compliance with the Buy American provision, especially with changes in seasons and produce availability.

Here are tips for doing so:

  • Conduct random audits of storage areas, including freezer and dry storage, to identify domestic and non-domestic products.
  • Review any products that are not domestic and make sure you have documentation to support the exception. The vendor will provide that information.

Best Bid Practices for Adherence

Work with your foodservice distributor and manufacturers to understand the items you’re purchasing and menuing. Build your bid specifications to eliminate non-domestic products or include alternate domestic items. Understand the best time of year to complete your bid and work that into your calendar. Specify your adherence to the Buy American Provision and consider including a statement emphasizing that products must be substantially produced and processed within the United States.

How Can Gordon Food Service Help

Gordon Food Service has a Buy American filter in Gordon Ordering to help when reviewing your order guide or when viewing the product catalog for new products. In addition, we have Buy American letters; including exception letters, available from the vendors that have supplied them.

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