How to Handle a USDA Foods Recall

Food recalls are incredibly complex with many different moving parts, as noted in the June/July 2020 article “Readying Recall Reactions.” From farm to cafeteria, no one along the food supply chain is immune to a food recall, including USDA Foods. Administered by USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), should a recall happen, FNS works quickly to notify state agencies that administer child nutrition programs using the Rapid Alert System (RAS). The message includes specific product identification information to help state agencies track the food. Additional recall information can be communicated through social media, emails, partner organizations like SNA, Department of Education and more.

Recalls involving USDA Foods are often part of a bigger recall of commercial products because USDA Foods are produced by the same manufacturers that sell commercial products. The recall communication process is a bit complex because so many federal agencies work together to regulate, procure and distribute USDA Foods. The flow of information varies based upon the evolution of the recall, but FNS works to determine if any USDA Foods were involved in the event of a commercial recall. If there is a food recall that does not involve USDA Foods, but FNS determines that the affected foods many have been purchased by school food authorities (SFAs) or state agencies through commercial channels, FNS may communicate recall information.

In the event that a food recall involves USDA Foods that have been diverted for processing (like chicken made into chicken nuggets), the communication process becomes even more complex. Processors are responsible for record maintenance as they are the only ones who know if recalled USDA Foods were used in their products. Processors must trace the distribution of their products and notify consignees. The communication process is further complicated by processors who ship in-state or who have national processing agreements.

In the event of a USDA Foods recall, be ready to report product information to either FNS or directly to the processor—this includes the quantity of product in inventory and if any was served. FNS will also provide instructions on how to destroy or dispose of a recalled food using RAS notification.

Costs associated to storage, transportation, processing and distribution will be reimbursed for recalled USDA Foods, and to claim reimbursement, agencies must submit original receipts and invoices. As no two recalls are alike, reimbursement costs could vary. Reimbursement stipulations do exist surrounding processed USDA Foods with and without a substitution, or end products that were made from USDA Foods. Should USDA Foods be involved in a recall, in most cases it is up to the vendor/processor to replace the affected product and providing reimbursement to federal, state and local agencies for costs incurred as a result of the recall. For further information regarding USDA Foods recalls, visit

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