GS1 GDSN and the USDA Foods Database: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for States/School Districts
The USDA Foods Database provides nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information for USDA Foods in Schools direct delivered products. States and school districts can access this database to learn more about the USDA Foods products offered on the USDA Foods Available List.
Each USDA Foods product can be supplied by numerous USDA approved vendors, as long as their product meets the requirements outlined in the USDA specification. The USDA Foods Database captures product information from all vendors that supply a particular product. This information can be used for menu planning and to inform ordering decisions for states and school districts. For example, before ordering deli turkey breast from the USDA, a school district may want to know whether it is possible for the product to contain wheat. If a search of the database indicates that none of USDA’s suppliers report that the product contains wheat, the school district can be assured that anytime they receive deli turkey breast, it will be free of wheat.
The questions and answers below provide more information about the USDA Foods Database. If you have additional questions, please contact us at USDAFoods@usda.gov.
GS1 GDSN Overview
- 1. Where does the data in the USDA Foods Database come from?
GS1 is the name of the company that manages the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and it is the world’s largest product data network. This network allows vendors to seamlessly share their product information with buyers, including the USDA.
- 2. Does this new process change the USDA Foods in Schools program? What does a school or school district have to do to access this information?
This new process will allow states and school districts to have access to vendor-specific nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information in advance to inform their ordering decisions and help plan successful school meals. However, states and school districts will not be able to select a specific vendor when ordering USDA Foods. The procurement process will remain the same and orders will be delivered based on how the solicitations are awarded. States and school districts can access the USDA Foods Database here.
- 3. Who is responsible for inputting nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information into the USDA Foods Database and how often is the information updated?
The vendor or company that has a contractual agreement with the USDA to supply USDA Foods is responsible for inputting nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information into the USDA Foods Database and verifying its accuracy. The USDA Foods Database will be updated monthly and includes the date the vendor last updated product information. If a vendor updates their information after the monthly release, these updates will appear in the following month’s release.
- 4. What products are required to be reported in GS1 GDSN? Would processed end-products be included?
Direct delivered USDA Foods will be the only foods USDA will require to be entered into GS1 GDSN. Fresh produce, bulk products for further processing, and processed end-products are exempt from this requirement. See a full list of USDA Foods that are required to be entered into GS1 GDSN.
Nutrition, Allergen, and Ingredient Information
- 5. Which allergens are identified in the report?
The report will include the major 9 allergens: milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish, soy, wheat, and sesame. Per regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers have until Jan. 1, 2023 to declare sesame as an allergen.
- 6. Are both 'Crustacean' and 'molluscan' shellfish included in the 'shellfish' allergen declaration?
No, only Crustacean shellfish are included in the shellfish allergen declaration. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA), Crustacean shellfish (such as crab, lobster, or shrimp) and ingredients that contain protein derived from Crustacean shellfish, are major food allergens, but molluscan shellfish (such as oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops) are not. The USDA will not be documenting molluscan shellfish as an allergen in the USDA Foods Database. If you need additional information about this allergen or other allergens, please contact the USDA at USDAFoods@usda.gov or contact the vendor directly.
- 7. What are the acceptable allergen declarations and what do each mean?
A vendor can select the following options within the 'Allergen' fields:
- Contains – the allergen is found in the product
- Derived From – the product has been derived from the allergen or contains ingredients derived from the allergen
- May Contain – the allergen may be found in the product due to potential cross-contamination by using a shared processing facility with other products that contain that allergen
- Free From – an analysis has been completed to verify the allergen is not found in the product
- Not intentionally or inherently included – the allergen is not found in the product, but an analysis was not completed to verify that the allergen is not present. An analysis is not required because the allergen was not added during processing and is not inherently or naturally found in the product.
- No Declaration – the vendor has decided not to declare the allergen as present or not present for the product. FNS does not recommend this entry and will work with vendors to determine which of the other allergen declaration statements are appropriate for the product.
- Blank Entries – for any allergen (except sesame) that does not include an allergen statement and the field is blank, the manufacturer has provided all of the allergen information that is available for the product. All values not populated are either not relevant or not required to be populated for the product. Because vendors are not required to declare sesame as an allergen until January 1, 2023, there may be blank field for this allergen, which does not have the same meaning as a blank field for other allergens. A blank field for sesame means that an analysis has not been completed to verify the presence or absence of the allergen in the product.
- 8. Will a full list of all ingredients be made available in the report?
Yes, vendors will be required to enter all of the ingredients for each USDA Food according to FDA regulation 21 CFR 101.4. These ingredients can be found in the ‘Ingredients’ section of the USDA Foods Database. States and school districts can also find a full list of nutrition, allergen information, and ingredients on the physical product label.
- 9. Will vendors provide the amount of the product by weight needed for a 1 oz meat/meat alternate (M/MA) serving (e.g., one vendor indicates 2.3 oz of pork by weight for a 1 oz M/MA serving versus another vendor only needs 2.1 oz)? If so, where will this information be displayed in the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, crediting information for all products will be found in the ‘Product Information’ section of the USDA Foods Database. For select products, the vendor will be required to enter the weight of the product and crediting information in ounce equivalents and cup equivalents. Once vendors submit their Product Formulation Statement and/or CN Label information, the CN crediting section will be updated to reflect that product’s crediting information. In the meantime, refer to the product packaging or contact the vendor directly to obtain the CN Label or Product Formulation Statement. Crediting information for all other products, when not provided by the vendor, will be derived using the USDA Child Nutrition Food Buying Guide.
- 10. Will a CN Label or PFS provided through the USDA Foods Database be an acceptable form of documentation for an Administrative Review?
Yes, a CN Label or PFS provided through the USDA Foods Database can be an acceptable form of documentation for an Administrative Review.
The CN Label provided by the vendor through the USDA Foods Database will be an electronic copy with a watermark stating, “Copy not for documenting federal meal requirements”. According to the policy memo Administrative Review Process Regarding the Child Nutrition (CN) Label, Watermarked CN Label and Manufacturer’s Product Formulation Statement, a hard or electronic copy of the CN Label with a watermark displaying the product name and CN number provided by the vendor is acceptable as long as the program operator provides the Bill of Lading (invoice) containing the product name.
According to the Guidance for Accepting Processed Product Documentation for Meal Pattern Requirements, a PFS should be evaluated by the program operator to ensure items meet meal pattern requirements. While the USDA ensures USDA Foods meet product specifications and USDA Child Nutrition requirements, USDA does not approve a manufacturer’s PFS for crediting information. Program operators are responsible for reviewing and verifying the crediting statement on manufacturer’s PFS from the USDA Foods Database. The Tips for Evaluating a Manufacturer's Product Formulation Statement document can be used for these purposes.
- 11. Will commercially certified Kosher and Halal products be identified in the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, commercially certified Kosher and Halal products will be identified in the USDA Foods Database. Commercial certifications are administered by large supervisory agencies and provided to manufacturers when their foods meet specific certification requirements. Certified food products can be identified in the consumer retail market by certification symbols on the label. These certifications are widely recognized and accepted by some Jewish and Muslim communities.
- 12. Would there be any indication as to whether a product contains pork or pork derived ingredients (e.g., source of enzymes used to make cheese)?
Vendors will be required to submit the list of ingredients for products to the GS1 GDSN. The ingredient list can be used to identify additional ingredients that are present in each food item. States and school districts are also encouraged to contact the vendor directly if they have additional questions about the ingredients or derivatives used in the product.
USDA Foods Database and Release Notes
- 13. Will the SY23 USDA Foods in Schools Foods Available List include a notation to indicate which food items include allergen, ingredient, and nutrition information in the USDA Foods Database?
No, the USDA Foods in Schools Foods Available List (FAL) will not include a notation to indicate which foods will be found in the USDA Foods Database. However, the only items on the FAL that are exempt from this requirement are fresh produce and bulk products for further processing. A full list of items that will be required in GS1 GDSN can be found in the List of Required Products for the USDA Foods Database. As more vendors submit product information to add to the USDA Foods Database, column E in this spreadsheet will be updated to indicate which products are currently available in the USDA Foods Database and have vendor-specific product information available for review.
- 14. When product information is updated, how will users know what changes were made? Will new products or information be indicated in the report?
Release notes will be made available each time the USDA Foods Database is updated, which will be monthly. The release notes will list all the changes that have been made since the last release of the USDA Foods Database.
- 15. Can the report be downloaded, printed, or converted into a PDF?
Yes, the USDA Foods Database can be downloaded, printed, and converted into a PDF. The latest file can be found and downloaded here. Once in the file, select the food category and material code of interest and click print. Users will be able to print nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information for one material at a time. The date the information was accessed will be listed in the bottom right of the file. The information can also be converted to a PDF by clicking ‘Adobe PDF’ as the printer option after clicking print.
- 16. Will the information included in the USDA Foods Database be acceptable documentation for Administrative Reviews?
Yes, information from the USDA Foods Database will be an acceptable form of documentation for Administrative Reviews. In the current Administrative Review Manual, supporting documentation can include USDA Foods Information Sheets. Once fully implemented, the USDA Foods Database will replace the USDA Foods Information Sheets. After this takes place, when the Administrative Review Manual is next updated, USDA Foods Information Sheets will be replaced with the USDA Foods Database as an acceptable form of documentation. Since the Administrative Review Manual only details examples of supporting documentation, documentation from the USDA Foods Database may be used prior to this update.
- 17. Will USDA Approved Nutrient Analysis Software be required to make this information available in a state or school district’s system?
USDA Approved Nutrient Analysis Software programs will not be required to make the information included in the USDA Foods Database available in a state or school district’s system. The USDA Foods Database can be downloaded, and the information can be manually entered into the state or school district’s nutrient analysis software of choice.
USDA Foods Product Information Sheets
- 18. Will the USDA Product Information Sheets include product ingredients, or will those only be available in the USDA Foods Database?
Product ingredients for USDA Foods will only be made available in the USDA Foods Database.
- 19. Does the USDA Foods Database replace the individual UDSA Product Information Sheets? If so, when will the USDA Product Information Sheets be phased out?
The USDA Foods Database will include vendor-specific nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information for all direct delivered USDA Foods for Child Nutrition Programs. The Product Information Sheets will be phased out after USDA successfully transitions nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information for all USDA Foods for Child Nutrition Programs into the USDA Foods Database.
- 20. Is there any information on the USDA Product Information Sheets that is not included in the USDA Foods Database?
The only information that is on the USDA Product Information Sheets and not in the USDA Foods Database are the culinary tips on how to use each food item in school meals and food safety information. However, this information will be made available online in the USDA Foods in Schools Toolkit prior to phasing out the USDA Product Information Sheets.
Implementation and Monitoring
- 21. What is the implementation timeline?
Vendors can enter nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information into GS1 GDSN beginning Sept. 1, 2021. For contracts awarded between Sept. 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021 that include deliveries in 2022, vendors will be required to submit nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information to GS1 GDSN by Dec. 31, 2021. For all contracts awarded after Dec. 31,2021 and beyond, vendors must report product information within 20 days after the contract is awarded.
- 22. When will the USDA Foods Database be made available?
The USDA Foods Database will be made available in 2022. Updates to the USDA Foods Database will be released monthly.