When procuring goods and services for the school meal programs, it is very important that School Food Authorities (SFAs) follow the federal rules and regulations of the National School Lunch Program; in particular, those procurement regulations that dictate all items (regardless of cost) be competitively procured. SFAs are not allowed to award business to the vendor of their choice; but rather vendors must be selected through a competitive bid process.
Procurement regulations are designed to provide free and open competition if federal funds are being used. Procurements that are not in accordance with approved local board policy, or are in violation of federal regulations, cannot be paid for with School Nutrition Program funds. When using nonprofit food service account funds, SFAs must follow Georgia rules and any local regulations, except where those rules are less restrictive than with federal requirements.
When procuring goods and services for the school meal programs, SFAs must first confirm the small purchase threshold for their school district. This will help determine whether the SFAs will use an informal or formal method of procurement (the informal method is typically used for purchases at or below the small purchase threshold, while the formal method is typically used for anything above the small purchase threshold). SFAs also need to understand and identify which method best meets the needs of their food service operation.
Part of this process also includes defining what “local” means to the school district. There are many options for defining “local” and definitions vary depending on the unique geography and climate of a school district’s location, and the abundance of local food producers and manufacturers. Many schools define local as an area within a certain number of miles in the county or state. Alternatively, definitions might be for a region that includes more than one state (e.g. Georgia, Alabama and Florida) or discrete parts of several states.
All products must follow federal procurement regulations. If a school district is unsure about procurement regulations or methods, contact the Georgia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program. SFAs are prohibited from unduly restricting competition or eliminating competition. In the next section, Delivery Issues/Distribution Models, there are descriptions of four distribution methods outlined with both the advantages and disadvantages of each. Whatever method is chosen, it should address the needs of the farmers and food service, in order to be successful over time.
Wisdom from Others:
Decision Tree – A fact sheet from the USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, to help you evaluate several options for purchasing local foods.
Procurement in the 21st Century – This resource from the Institute of Child Nutrition is a comprehensive guidance document on national procurement regulations, covering everything from small purchases to competitive proposals, cooperative purchasing options and group buying services, plus product specifications, cost management and more.
USDA Local Foods Procurement – See this Food and Nutrition Service list to assist in establishing a plan for procuring (or procuring more) local foods to serve to students through Federal Child Nutrition Programs.
Using DoD Fresh to Purchase Local Produce – Schools are able to use their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase fresh produce. Review this fact sheet to learn more about buying local fruits and vegetables through DoD Fresh.