GS1 GDSN and the USDA Foods Database: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for States/School Districts
The following questions and answers 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?
The data in the USDA Foods Database comes from USDA Foods vendors through the GS1 Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN). GS1 is the company that manages the GDSN, which is the world’s largest product data network. This network allows vendors to seamlessly share their product information with buyers, including the USDA.
- 2. How does the USDA Foods Database impact the USDA Foods in Schools program?
The USDA Foods Database allows 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.
- 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?
Direct delivered USDA Foods for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are the only foods required to be entered into GS1 GDSN. Fresh produce, bulk products for further processing, processed end-products, and products for USDA Foods household programs, including The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) are exempt from this requirement. Click here for a full list of USDA Foods that are required to be entered into GS1 GDSN.
Accessing the USDA Foods Database
- 5. Will school districts need to have access to PartnerWeb to use the USDA Foods Database?
No, the USDA Foods Database is available publicly on the FNS website.
- 6. Are instructions available on how to use the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, written instructions on how to navigate the USDA Foods Database and a recorded webinar with step-by-step instructions are available on the FNS website under ‘Key Resources for State Agencies and School Districts’.
- 7. Why is the USDA Foods Database password protected? What is the password to access the product information?
The USDA Foods Database is password protected to prohibit users from manually adding or changing content to maintain the integrity of the data. Users do not need a password to access product information. The Instructions on How to Use the USDA Foods Database will guide users on how to access the vendor-specific product information contained in the database.
- 8. When I download the USDA Foods Database, a yellow Security Warning appears at the top of the spreadsheet that indicates that Macros have been disabled and a button that says, ‘Enable Content’. Do I have to enable content for the database to work?
Yes, macros must be enabled by selecting ‘Enable Content’. If you are working in an older version of Excel or if the system security does not allow macros to be enabled, the database will not work. In these instances, we recommend contacting your IT department to download an updated version of Excel and/or request permission for macros to be enabled for this document.
- 9. Once I download and save the USDA Foods Database, will future updates come through without having to download the latest version?
No, to access the most up-to-date product information, users will need to download the latest version of the database. Changes are not automatically updated if a previous version has been downloaded.
- 10. Which allergens are identified in the USDA Foods Database?
The USDA Foods Database includes the nine major food allergens: milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, Crustacean shellfish, fish, soybeans, wheat, and sesame. Per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, effective Jan. 1, 2023, sesame is required to be labeled as an allergen. As USDA Foods vendors work to get their allergen information updated to include sesame, please be aware that the presence or absence of sesame in a product may not be indicated in the USDA Foods Database. If you have questions about the presence of sesame in a product, please contact USDAFoods@usda.gov or contact the vendor directly.
- 11. 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.
- 12. What are the acceptable allergen declarations and what do each mean?
A vendor can select the following options within the ‘Allergen’ section:
- 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 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 were not required to declare sesame as an allergen until Jan. 1, 2023, there may be a blank field for this allergen, which does not have the same meaning as a blank field for the other 8 allergens. A blank field for sesame means that an analysis has not been reported to verify the presence or absence of the allergen in the product. If you have questions about the presence of sesame in a product where this field has been left blank, please contact USDAFoods@usda.gov or contact the vendor directly to determine if the product contains sesame.
- 13. Will a full list of all ingredients be made available in the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, vendors are 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 an ingredient list, allergen statement, and Nutrition Facts label on the physical shipping container or primary package of the product.
- 14. Is crediting information available in the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, crediting information for all products is in the ‘Product Information’ section of the USDA Foods Database, in the ‘CN Crediting’ field. This information is supplied directly by the vendor or derived using the USDA Child Nutrition Food Buying Guide. For select products, the vendor is required to provide information on how the product credits or contributes towards meal pattern requirements for USDA child nutrition programs. If the vendor has provided Child Nutrition (CN) Label or Product Formulation Statement (PFS) documentation, the text with crediting information is hyperlinked to the appropriate documentation. For products where a CN Label or PFS is required, if the vendor has not yet submitted documentation, you will see a non-hyperlinked statement that says, “Use vendor CN Label or Product Formulation Statement to confirm crediting information.” In these instances, please refer to the product packaging for the CN Label or contact USDAFoods@usda.gov or the vendor directly to obtain the CN Label or PFS.
- 15. Are commercially certified kosher and halal products identified in the USDA Foods Database?
Yes, commercially certified kosher and halal products are identified in the ‘Certifications’ section. The commercial certification name or certifying agency are listed in the field. 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.
- 16. Are there any indications as to whether a product contains pork or pork derived ingredients (e.g., source of enzymes used to make cheese)?
The ‘Ingredients’ section of the USDA Foods Database includes a list of all ingredients found in the product using the common or usual name. Except for the nine major food allergens, the ingredient list is not required to name the food source from which the ingredient is derived. States and school districts can contact the vendor directly with additional questions about the ingredients or derivatives used in a product.
- 17. Will the shelf-life of the product be included in the USDA Foods Database?
At this time, the shelf-life of products are not identified in the USDA Foods Database. Shelf-life is not currently a product attribute that vendors are required to report so it is not available for all USDA Foods products. States and school districts can contact the vendor directly with additional questions regarding the shelf-life of a particular product.
USDA Foods Database and Release Notes
- 18. Will the 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 are required to be reported 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 to review.
- 19. How frequently is the USDA Foods Database updated? Will a notification be sent when the latest version is available?
The USDA Foods Database is updated monthly, by the 15th of each month. At this time, notifications will not be sent to alert users to the latest version, but users are able to access the USDA Foods Database at-will by visiting the FNS website.
- 20. When product information is updated, how do users know what changes were made?
Release notes are made available and updated monthly with each USDA Foods Database release. The release notes list all changes that have been made since the last release. This includes products that have been updated, added, or removed. Vendors are only required to provide updates if their product information has changed so the ‘Last Updated’ date at the bottom of the spreadsheet may appear outdated over time but still reflects the most current information available from that vendor.
- 21. Is there any reason to save previous versions of the USDA Foods Database or should previous versions be deleted once a new version is made available?
The ‘Archive’ section of the USDA Foods Database webpage contains previous versions of the USDA Foods Database for up to a year. If you need access to a version that is no longer available in the archives, you can reach out to USDAFoods@usda.gov to request the version needed. Thus, it is not necessary to save previous versions of the entire database, but it is up to the user to decide if they would like to keep or discard previous versions. Saving a printed or electronic PDF copy of the populated spreadsheet for each USDA Foods material ordered and received is recommended.
- 22. Can the USDA Foods Database be downloaded, printed, or converted into a PDF?
Yes, 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 and saved as a PDF by clicking ‘Save as Adobe PDF’ or selecting ‘Adobe PDF’ as the printer option after clicking print.
- 23. Is the information included in the USDA Foods Database an acceptable form of documentation for Administrative Reviews?
Yes, information from the USDA Foods Database is 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.
- 24. 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.
- 25. 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
- 26. Does the USDA Foods Database replace the individual UDSA Product Information Sheets? If so, when will the USDA Product Information Sheets be phased out?
Yes, the USDA Foods Database will eventually replace the individual USDA Product Information Sheets. 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. The tentative timeline for discontinuing the USDA Product Information Sheets is Dec. 31, 2023. However, USDA will reevaluate this timeline to decide if Product Information Sheet availability needs to be extended based on the status of the USDA Foods Database.
- 27. How are the USDA Product Information Sheets different from the USDA Foods Database?
The USDA Foods Database includes vendor-specific nutrition, allergen, and ingredient information, which is not available on the USDA Product Information Sheets. 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.
Compliance and Monitoring
- 28. When are vendors required to report product information?
Vendors must report product information within 20 days after the contract is awarded.
- 29. Does the USDA Foods Database contain product information for all applicable USDA Foods products from all potential USDA Foods vendors?
No, the USDA Foods Database does not currently contain information for all applicable USDA Foods products from all USDA Foods vendors.
USDA Foods vendors are not required to report product information until 20 days after they are awarded a contract for applicable products. Vendors may voluntarily report product information prior to being awarded but are not required until after they are awarded a contract to supply products. Because contracts are awarded throughout the year, certain products and/or vendors may not be found in the USDA Foods Database at this time.
Additionally, USDA is continuing to work with vendors who have reported product information to ensure their information is complete and accurate prior to including it in the USDA Foods Database. Thus, users can expect significant updates over the next year to include product information for additional products and from additional vendors. The List of Required Products for the USDA Foods Database includes a column that identifies which products are currently available in the USDA Foods Database. This column will be updated with each monthly release as more products are included. While these updates are made, the USDA Foods in Schools Product Information Sheets will still be available but will be phased out after the USDA Foods Database is more complete.