State of Alaska
USDA Foods Program

How the Commodity Program Works

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchases commodity foods through direct appropriations from Congress, and under surplus-removal and price support activities for the Food Distribution Program.

The USDA Food Distribution Program provides two vital national services.  The program provides nutritious foods to our nations children and helps American farmers by supporting domestic agriculture and removing surpluses from the market.

USDA provides these services through the cooperative efforts of three of its agencies. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) distributes commodities to designated outlets. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) buys fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and poultry items when supply exceeds demand, removing them from the regular channels of trade. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) obtains other foods such as grain, dairy, vegetable oil and peanut products. It is the ever-changing marketplace that determines how much of each commodity USDA can purchase and when the commodities can be purchased.

Eligibile Outlets

Commodities are distributed to State Agencies for use by eligible outlets. In Alaska the State Department of Education & Early Development acts as the Distributing Agency for the USDA Commodity Program. Eligible outlets include schools and residential child care institutions participating in the National School Lunch Program, child care centers participating in the Child Care Food Program, approved sponsors of a Summer Food Service Program, food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, etc., participating in the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

USDA offers a wide variety of commodities for distribution to eligible outlets. The department strives to buy foods that support the Dietary Guidelines for Americans These guidelines are a set of Federal recommendations that promote healthful eating. USDA continually improves its commodities to ensure that the foods are nutritious and acceptable to children.

Commodities represent about 15 to 20 percent of the market value of the foods schools serve. The foods that USDA donates vary depending on what farm products are available.


The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a Federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including elderly people, by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost.

Under TEFAP, commodity foods are made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to States. States provide the food to local agencies that they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn, distribute the food to soup kitchens and food pantries that directly serve the public. The Alaska Department of Education & Early Development sub-contracts with the Food Bank of Alaska in Anchorage for distribution of TEFAP commodities statewide.

For more more information on TEFAP

Bonus Commodities

When unusually large surpluses occur, USDA makes commodities available to states for foods not charged against entitlement. These foods are classified as bonus commodities because they are not charged against entitlement. Bonus commodities are offered in addition to entitlement commodities.

In some instances USDA will make bonus commodities available to charitable and correctional institutions when School and/or TEFAP outlets cannot utilize the bonus foods. There are no direct congressional commodity appropriations for charitable & correctional institutions. Each State has authorization to choose whether or not to make bonus commodities available to charitable and correctional institutions. Alaska does make this option available when bonus commodities are offered and cannot be used by other eligible outlets.

Entitlement Foods

Federal law mandates a national level of commodity assistance for schools based on each data for each state. The national assistance level is referred to as a commodity entitlement. FNS ensures that enough foods are purchased and delivered to states in order to meet the commodity entitlement. The State Distributing Agency is responsible for distributing entitlement allotments to each recipient agency.