Questions and Answers about the WIC Food Packages

Last Modified: 12/17/2013

General Questions

How were the WIC-eligible foods chosen for the program?
The WIC food packages provide supplemental foods designed to meet the special nutritional needs of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants and children up to five years of age who are at nutritional risk. In September 2003, FNS contracted with the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) to independently review the WIC Food Packages. FNS charged the IOM with reviewing the nutritional needs of the WIC population, and recommending cost-neutral changes to the WIC food packages. The IOM selected a Committee of experts in nutrition, health, risk assessment, and economics to conduct this review. In making its recommendations, the IOM considered nutrient intakes and dietary patterns, the major diet-related health problems and risks faced by WIC’s target population, the characteristics of the WIC Program, and the diversity of its participants. The food packages align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and infant feeding practice guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

How do the food packages appeal to WIC’s culturally diverse populations?
The food packages provide participant choice and variety. Foods such as tortillas, brown rice, soy-based beverage, canned salmon, and a wide choice of fruits and vegetables provide State agencies flexibility in prescribing culturally appropriate food packages.

How do the food packages support breastfeeding?
The food packages for breastfeeding infant-mother pairs provide incentives for continued breastfeeding. For example, the food package for fully breastfeeding women provides greater amounts of foods, including a higher dollar value for fruits and vegetables. Fully breastfeeding infants receive baby food meats in addition to greater amounts of baby food fruits and vegetables. Less infant formula is provided to partially breastfeeding infants so that they may receive the benefits of breastmilk. A minimal amount of infant formula is provided to partially breastfeeding infants in the first month after birth in order to help mothers build and maintain their milk production.

Is there a list of all WIC-eligible foods available?
Although Federal regulations specify the minimum nutritional requirements for the WIC foods, State agencies have a considerable amount of latitude in determining which foods to include on State authorized foods lists. State agencies make such decisions based on participant acceptance, product distribution within a State, cost, and administrative feasibility. Because State agencies are required to identify WIC-eligible foods, which vary from State to State, there is no consolidated list available. Due to the large number of locally and regionally available foods, including store brands and generics, and the frequent changes in formulation of foods by manufacturers, it is administratively difficult to maintain a national list of all possible WIC-eligible foods.

Are organic foods WIC-eligible?
Some organic forms of WIC-eligible foods (e.g., milk, eggs, cheese) meet the nutritional requirements set forth in WIC regulations and are therefore authorized. However, WIC State agencies are responsible for determining the brands and types of foods to authorize on their State WIC food lists. Some State agencies may allow organic foods on their foods lists, but this will vary by State. The decision may be influenced by a number of factors such as cost, product distribution within a State, and WIC participant acceptance.

Organic fruits and vegetables purchased via the WIC cash-value voucher are authorized; there is not State discretion to disallow them. The cash-value voucher may be redeemed for any WIC-eligible fruit and vegetable.

How does the WIC food package account for participants who have food allergies/intolerances?
The WIC Program works hard to serve a large population that has various nutritional needs, including food allergies/intolerances. However, the foods eligible for the WIC food packages must meet nutritional requirements set by Federal regulations. If a participant has food allergies, WIC staff may tailor food packages to better meet the participant’s individual needs. Types and quantities of foods in the food package may be adjusted to meet individual dietary needs. For example, if a child on WIC is allergic to peanut butter, dried beans/peas may be substituted for the peanut butter. If a pregnant woman on WIC is lactose-intolerant, lactose-reduced milk or soy-based beverage may be substituted. If an infant on WIC has a medical condition requiring an exempt infant formula, the participant may receive such a formula with appropriate medical documentation. 

Are artificial sweeteners allowed?
Federal WIC regulations do not prohibit foods that contain artificial sweeteners. However, WIC State agencies are responsible for determining the brands and types of foods to authorize on their State WIC food lists. Some State agencies may allow foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners on their foods lists, but this will vary by State.

Can State agencies authorize package sizes that do not evenly divide into the maximum monthly allowance of a WIC food?
State agencies must authorize container sizes that provide the full maximum monthly allowances of authorized supplemental foods on the State food list. The only exception is for an infant food or formula since rounding up is authorized in order to provide the full nutritional benefit for infants. However, in order to provide variety and choice FNS will allow State agencies the option to also authorize package sizes that provide less than the maximum allowance provided the nutritional integrity of the food package is not compromised. For example, a 15.5-ounce can of beans can be authorized as long as the State agency also authorizes a 16-ounce can that provides the maximum. It would not be appropriate to allow a 46 or 48-ounce container of juice as an option for the 64-ounce container of juice for a child. At least one package size (or combination of sizes) must add up to the full maximum monthly allowance that participants are authorized to receive. The choice to achieve the full maximum allowance must be made available to participants and local agencies must provide appropriate education to participants about how to obtain their full food package benefit.

 

Fruits and Vegetables Questions

Do State agencies have the authority to selectively choose which fruits or vegetables are available to WIC participants?
No. The cash-value voucher may be redeemed for any eligible fruit and vegetable within the types (fresh, frozen, canned and/or dried) authorized by the State. States may not impose further restrictions on eligible fruit and vegetables. For example, if a State chooses to offer dried fruits, it must authorize all WIC-eligible dried fruits, i.e. those without added sugars, fats, oils, or sodium.

 

Farmers and Farmers’ Markets Questions

May a State agency authorize a farmer to accept the cash-value voucher if the State agency does not currently administer the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)?
Yes, any WIC State agency has the option to authorize farmers at farmers’ markets to accept the cash-value voucher. WIC regulations at 7 CFR 246.12(v) specify the requirements regarding the authorization of farmers at farmers" markets. However, the requirements were designed to build on an FMNP infrastructure that already exists.

Does the minimum stocking requirement of at least two varieties of fruits and two varieties of vegetables apply to farmers who are authorized to accept the cash-value voucher?
No. The minimum stocking requirement does not apply to farmers authorized to accept the cash-value voucher. However, the intent of the cash-value voucher is to allow participants choice and variety. State agencies that authorize farmers to accept the cash-value voucher should consider issuing cash-value vouchers in small denominations so that participants may shop at multiple authorized farmers and farmers markets.

 

Cash-value voucher questions

May a participant pay the difference when the purchase of allowable fruits and vegetables exceeds the value of the fruit and vegetable voucher?
This is a State agency option.

Can sales tax be applied to purchases made with the cash-value voucher?
No, sales tax may not be applied to purchases made with the cash-value voucher. However, if a participant’s purchase of fruits and vegetables exceeds the amount of the cash-value voucher and the State agency allows the participant to pay cash for the additional amount, the balance is subject to sales tax. If the participant pays the balance with food stamps, the balance is not taxed.

States that authorize farmers to accept WIC Cash Value Vouchers

 

Milk and Milk Alternatives questions

Is rice beverage WIC-eligible?
Rice-based beverages are not authorized milk substitutes in the WIC Program. Soy-based beverages that meet the Federal WIC nutrient requirements are authorized at the State agency’s option.

Is yogurt WIC -eligible?
Due to cost considerations, WIC regulations do not allow the substitution of yogurt for milk in the WIC food packages.

 

Canned Fish Questions

Is Jack mackerel WIC-eligible?
No. Jack mackerel is the scientific common name for Trachurus symmetricus; a number of other species are also commonly called Jack mackerel. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Jack mackerel is distinct from the two mackerel species—Chub Pacific (Scomber japonicus) and N. Atlantic (Scomber scombrus) that are authorized. The authorized mackerel species were chosen because they are lower in mercury.

Are canned sardines with tomato sauce or mustard allowed?
Canned sardines and other fish with added sauces are authorized at the State agency’s option.

 

Mature Legume Questions

Are canned refried beans allowed?
Yes, but only those without added sugars, fats, oil or meat as purchased are allowed.

 

Whole Wheat/Whole Grain Bread and Other Whole Grain Questions 

Are whole grain breads with added fruit, nuts and seeds allowed in the WIC Program?
Yes, whole grain breads with added fruit, nuts, and seeds are allowed provided they meet the minimum Federal requirements as specified for whole grain bread. The minimum Federal requirements for whole grain breads do not prohibit the addition of fruit, nuts, and seeds. However, State agencies are allowed to establish criteria in addition to the minimum Federal requirements for WIC supplemental foods; therefore State agencies may choose to disallow whole grain breads with added fruit, nuts, or seeds.

 

Infant Formula Questions

Are WIC participants able to choose the brand of infant formula to feed their infants?
WIC State agencies are responsible for identifying the types and brands of infant formulas that are authorized for use in their WIC Programs. The Federal regulations that govern the WIC Program outline the minimum requirements for WIC-eligible infant formula. WIC State agencies are required to have a competitively bid, sole-source rebate contract with a manufacturer of infant formulas. Under such an agreement, most healthy WIC infants may be provided either a milk-based or soy-based iron-fortified infant formula produced by the manufacturer awarded the contract. In turn, WIC State agencies receive a rebate per can of infant formula issued to a WIC infant. Infants who have special dietary needs are provided an appropriate alternative formula, in accordance with State WIC policies and Federal regulations. WIC rebate contracts and policies vary by State, therefore the types and brands of infant formula will vary by State.

If a WIC participant has a special dietary need, what does WIC require to receive an exempt infant formula or medical food?
Medical documentation is required for the issuance of exempt infant formulas and medical foods. Medical documentation means a determination by a licensed health care professional authorized to write medical prescriptions under State law that the participant has a medical condition that dictates the use of these formulas because the use of conventional foods is precluded or restricted. WIC State agencies are responsible for using Federal WIC regulations to determine the eligibility of exempt infant formulas and medical foods for their State WIC food lists. State agencies also determine qualifying conditions that require the use of an exempt infant formula or WIC-eligible medical food when the use of conventional foods is precluded, restricted, or inadequate to address their special nutritional needs. Only those formulas appearing on the State WIC food list may be issued to WIC participants. Please contact your WIC Program to learn about the exempt infant formulas and medical foods authorized on their WIC food list, and their policy for providing non-contract brand of infant formulas to participants.

Where can I find more information about infant formula and/or report a problem or illness caused by an infant formula or find out about recalls?
Infant formulas and exempt infant formulas are regulated through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). For more information about infant formulas or to report a problem go to the FDA/CFSAN website at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/InfantFormula/default.htm 
This website includes:
• Information about FDA’s regulation of commercial infant formulas,
• Commonly asked questions about infant formulas,
• Links to other relevant resources, and
• How to report problems.

Which infant formulas, exempt infant formulas and medical foods are WIC-eligible?
The WIC Formula Database on the WIC Works Resource System is an online, searchable database of reviewed WIC-eligible infant formulas, exempt infant formulas and medical foods.