California Department of Education Food Distribution Program: USDA Foods Complaints

Hello and thank you for joining our Food Distribution
Program (FDP) Webinar on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods complaints and recalls. My name is Amy Bell, Child Nutrition Consultant
with the California Department of Education (CDE) FDP and I will be hosting the Webinar
today. During this Webinar you will learn when, why,
and how to file a USDA Foods complaint, as well as hear some information that will help
in the event of a recall that involves USDA Foods. Let’s get started! Today we will cover complaints related to
USDA Foods, Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, also known as DoD Fresh, and
complaints that involve processed end products that are made with USDA Foods. First of all, Title 7 Code of Federal Regulations
Part 250.15 (d) requires complaints regarding product quality or specifications, or suggested
product improvements be submitted to the USDA for tracking purposes. The USDA has a team of seven program specialists
assigned to handle USDA Foods complaints. On average, the team has about 40 complaint
cases under some stage of investigation every day and usually resolves complaints within
28 days. In school year (SY) 2015-16 the USDA complaint
team received 575 complaints from across the nation. In the same year, the USDA hosted a Webinar
regarding complaints to explain the importance of reporting issues. During the current 2016-17 SY, the USDA compliant
team has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of complaints filed through the month
of January, as half way through the SY they were just above 425 total complaints from
recipients nationwide. This is good news from the perspective that
agencies are taking the time to file complaints with the goal of reducing food loss and waste,
and improving vendor performance and products. In fact, on average, the USDA saves and recovers
over $1.5 million a SY resolving complaints. As I mentioned, the ultimate goal of the USDA
Foods complaint team is to reduce food and financial losses-unusable food is wasted money
for the USDA and schools. With each complaint, the USDA is working with
their vendors to resolve issues and find solutions. These could be as simple as packaging changes
to make items easier to open or changing pallets to alleviate crushing cans. The USDA also uses complaints to find trends
and evaluate products. For example, several years ago, the USDA made
changes to the spaghetti sauce specifications after analyzing numerous complaints regarding
the sauce’s watery consistency. The USDA also uses complaints as a way to
monitor vendor performance, as in the case of dried beans with large amounts of debris. The USDA makes decisions about future contracts
based on the data gathered from the compliant team and rely on the complaints to continue
to improve the items they are able to provide. Most USDA Foods have a six month warranty
from date they are shipped from the vendor and delivered to the destination. That means that the goal for USDA Foods is
that they are consumed within six months or less; however, some items have a shorter shelf
life, such as string cheese and yogurt. The bottom line is that storing or saving
food for a rainy day is the wrong mindset. Remember, the longer food is left in storage,
the higher the likelihood of food loss, and with food loss, there may be disposal fees. A food loss wastes the money that has been
paid to store the food, to dispose of the food, and to replace the food you planned to use. If those are not enough reasons, USDA vendors
give priority to foods under warranty and there is a higher likelihood the item can
be replaced. Let me start by saying that complaints may
be filed by recipient agencies, private distributors, or processors for any of the reasons that
I am about to mention. For groups that receive product directly from
a USDA vendor, it is recommended a complaint be filed when the seal on a truck is broken
or missing, when the vendor fails to make a delivery appointment, when a load shifts
and product is damaged, or when the product is delivered at the wrong temperature. For all other USDA Foods recipients, complaints
should be filed when there is a safety issue such as when an injury or illness occurs after
consuming a product. Complaints should also be filed for product
quality issues such as taste, odor, or color. As an example, a school filed a complaint
because some of their applesauce seemed discolored. The vendor and complaint team determined that
several different varieties of apples were used within a production run which resulted
in varying shades of yellow. It was determined that the product was safe
to consume. Complaints should be filed for packaging damage
and issues such as leaks or seals. The USDA received many complaints about the
strong seals on the applesauce cups. The USDA took the problem to the vendor and
the vendor fixed it and now the applesauce cups are easier to open. Complaints should be filed when nonedible
items such as insects, bones, metal, or plastic pieces are found in products. Vendors will often inspect their entire line
when a machine part is found in a item to identify where the machine part came from. Vendors have been known to dismantle their
entire production line to find the empty screw socket. If you do find a foreign object, it is advisable
to photograph and save the object. Many times the vendor wants the object sent
to them to investigate. Complaints about consistency or performance
should be filed too. Often specifications need to be modified to
improve a product. Some examples of complaints that resulted
in specification changes, were the spaghetti sauce that was watery, cheese that didn’t
melt, and tortillas that often broke. The USDA reviews all feedback, so if a USDA
product is not meeting your expectations, take the time to let us and the USDA know. Filing a USDA Foods Compliant is important
when safety is an issue, especially when an injury or illness occurs. Filing a complaint will allow you to request
a replacement or receive reimbursement if a product is still under warranty. Filing a compliant offers the USDA information
for trend analysis and helps the USDA focus on repetitive occurrences and safety issues. The data the USDA collects from complaints
allows them to pinpoint specific products and vendors with problems, and prompts the
USDA to review their bid specifications and product formulations. Ultimately, complaints help improve the quality
of USDA Foods. Okay! You are ready to file a USDA Foods complaint! To make it easier for anyone receiving USDA
Foods to submit a complaint, we have a USDA Foods Complaint Form that is located on the
CDE Web site at the link listed on the screen. This form can be downloaded, completed, and
either faxed or e-mailed to the Food Distribution Program at [email protected] We will take your information and submit a
formal complaint to the USDA. So now let us talk about what is needed when
you file a complaint. Remember more is better! First, we need the sales order number to file
the complaint electronically with the USDA. If you receive USDA Foods directly from a
USDA Foods vendor, the sales order number is on the shipping paperwork that comes with
the delivery. The sales order number is helpful because
the USDA uses this number to identify which vendor produced the product and when it was
shipped. If you receive your USDA Foods from the state,
you may contact your assigned distribution center to obtain the sales order number, and
if you use a private distributor to deliver your USDA Foods, your distributor will have
this information. We will also need to know the vendor’s name,
product name, and item code number. If you can provide any identifying information
such as a lot number, pack date, or use by date, these are also very helpful. When you file the complaint, you will also
need to provide a description of the issue and the quantity of unacceptable product. I know it can be tedious to inspect your remaining
inventory, but it is important to know if it is an isolated incident, or something more
widespread. It is also critical to let us know if any
injuries or illnesses have occurred after consuming the product. And finally, please let us know if you have
specific expectations regarding the outcome of the complaint. For instance, do you want replacement product,
entitlement credit, or is your complaint for informational purposes only. After you file your complaint with the FDP,
it is advisable not to dispose of any food that is involved in the complaint prior to
guidance and authorization from the USDA. If you are at all concerned that the food
involved in the complaint could potentially contaminate other items, please call us so
that we can expedite the disposal approval process. In addition to the written information that
you provide, clear pictures are helpful when filing a complaint. Adding a point of reference is always valuable,
especially when a foreign object is found. I like these photos that were sent to us. A ruler or a coin are a great way to identify
the size of an object! Also, remember to save any foreign objects
that may need to be inspected. Please note that if you are sending pictures,
they must be submitted electronically in order for us to forward them to the USDA. Likewise, sending photos of the pallet, case
label, and/or the individual packaging label can help the USDA and the vendor complete
the story in order to research the complaint more thoroughly. Additionally, photos are helpful when there
is a widespread issue. In these photos, mold, bugs, and poorly sealed
cases further show the extent of potential problems recipients may see. Although these are worst case scenarios they
are the minority, as most of the $1.4 billion worth of USDA Foods is of the highest quality. And one final note on photos, it is helpful
to literally point out the problem to the USDA complaint team and the vendor. Not only could the USDA tell that mold was
the issue, but under closer examination, they determined the reason for the crushed cans
was poorly constructed pallets. Just remember that sending digital photos
can help the USDA and vendor piece together the puzzle to solve a complaint. Alright let’s move on and talk about how to
handle produce you receive from the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. With all produce, your staff should be inspecting
produce upon receipt and rejecting any produce that is unacceptable before they sign off
on any paperwork prior to produce delivery driver leaving. If this does not happen or you notice a problem
within a few days, you can file a complaint. Depending on how you order and receive your
DoD produce will determine how you file your complaint. Let’s first talk about recipient agencies
who order their DoD produce directly through the DoD’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Order
Receipt System (FFAVORS) Web site. Agencies are required to use the receipt function
in the FFAVORS Web system to verify a DoD delivery within seven days; and agencies should
also report any complaints at this time. The receipt function allows you to note the
number of cases that were received in poor condition or damaged. Reporting the complaint in FFAVORS in a timely
manner will allow an adjustment to be made to your invoice. If you discover a problem after seven days
of receipt, the FFAVORS will not allow you to edit your receipt, and so you must contact
the DoD Customer Support Specialist who can edit your receipt in the FFAVORS. In addition to reporting the problem in FFAVORS,
the prime vendor, the DoD Customer Support Specialist, and FDP staff should be made aware
of the issue via e-mail. This will ensure a speedy resolution. The vendor will let you know if the product
can be disposed of, or picked up, and if the product will be replaced, or a credit will
be issued. On a final note, the DoD vendor often requests
to see photos of the problem and the packaging in order for them to research the problem
with their supplier. Photos should be sent to the vendor, the DoD
Customer Support Specialist, and the FDP as well Since the State Distribution Centers (SDC)
receive DoD produce directly from the DoD prime vendor, our SDC staff inspect produce
before it is shipped out; however, there may be a time when a school that receives DoD
produce from the SDC wishes to file a DoD complaint. If you receive your DoD produce through one
of our State Distribution Centers, you can report the complaint within ten days of receiving
the product by completing the Over, Short, and Damaged (OSD) Report in the Child Nutrition
Information and Payment System also known as CNIPS. The OSD report can be accessed from the orders
tab in the CNIPS and it will allow you to report the number of cases that were in poor
condition. After SDC staff receive your report, they
will contact you regarding disposal, and determine if the product will be replaced or a credit
will be issued. If you discover a problem ten days after receipt,
the CNIPS will not allow you to file an OSD Report and so you should contact the SDC staff
who can assist you with a resolution. Again, photos of the problem and the packaging
can assist the DoD vendor research the problem with their supplier. Since I mentioned the Over Short and Damaged
(OSD) Report form, I want to tell you how to report overages, shortages, or damages
related to your delivery of food from the state distribution centers. This is a screen shot of the OSD report that
is available in the CNIPS. The purpose of the OSD Report is to notify
the FDP that there was a problem with your delivery. For example, if you ordered five cases of
applesauce, but 3 cases were crushed, you are able to inform the distribution center electronically. The CNIPS will allow recipient agencies to
report any problems within 10 days of delivery. After that point in time, you will need to
contact the distribution center to report any problems. The CNIPS will display all the foods shipped
on the order along with the item number, a description of the item, the pack size, and
the number of units shipped. The last two columns are for you to add units
received and/or units damaged. At the bottom of the report, there is a text
box for comments for you to add any additional information that you think would be helpful. The CNIPS will alert the distribution center
staff of the report and the staff will work to resolve the issue and if necessary, make
adjustments to the invoice. Alright, let’s talk about complaints regarding
end-products made with USDA Foods. There have been a few instances when we have
been contacted by schools that have a complaint about a USDA Foods processed end-product purchased
from an approved processor. Although this is not a common practice, the
USDA does appreciate communication about products that come from processors approved to process
USDA Foods. The first step is to determine if the problem
with the USDA processed end-product is a result of an USDA Food. If the USDA Foods contained in the product
is the reason for the complaint, then the process of filing an USDA Foods complaint
that we previously discussed would be followed. An example of this would be rocks in dried
beans that were used by the processor. The problem originated with the USDA Food
that was used as an ingredient. If it is determined that the USDA Food is
not the problem, for example plastic in the breading of chicken tenders, then the entity
that signed the contract with the processor, should work with the processor to come to
an agreeable solution. If for some reason the processor is uncooperative
in resolving the complaint, then the FDP should be contacted. The FDP will involve the USDA to determine
responsibility. At that time, if the USDA finds the processor
at fault, the USDA may collect on the bond that all processors are required to post with
USDA to cover the USDA Foods involved in the complaint. It is worth the effort to submit complaints
to the USDA. The USDA does investigate and does take action. In fact, the USDA recently shared some of
their success stories from complaints that led to positive changes with USDA Foods. Some complaints result in packaging changes. For example, a rice vendor redesigning his pack line to address bagged rice that consistently leaked. Another success was the example that I used
earlier of the applesauce cup manufacturer who had lids with a robust foil seal that
kids couldn’t open and so the vendor addressed and corrected the problem. Specifications may also be changed as the
result of complaints. For example, the USDA changed the individual
peanut butter specification to ensure that the packaging was easier to open after they
received numerous complaints about the tough packaging. The USDA also changed the specifications on cheese so that shredded cheese would consistently melt. And sometimes complaints result in a vendor
being penalized; this happened after the USDA received complaints about the whole grain
rich pasta. The USDA discovered that the vendor’s pasta
was not compliant to the bid specifications and so the vendor was held accountable and
subsequently corrected the issue. So please take the time to file a complaint. If the USDA is unaware of your concerns or
that foods are not meeting your expectations, they cannot make the necessary improvements. As you have just learned, they want to continuously
improve the foods they offer to ensure the food they provide is safe, wholesome, and
tasty. We have been talking a lot about complaints,
but perhaps, you do not have a complaint, but have a suggestion for new packaging, or
for a new seasoning profile, or for a new food. Well, the USDA wants to hear from you and
encourages your feedback! You can provide suggestions, comments, and
recommendations directly to the USDA Food Distribution Program by e-mailing them at
the address listed on the slide. You can even let them know when a product
exceeds your expectations! Now, I want to take just few moments to address
food recalls. A food recall is an action to remove food
products from the market when there is reason to believe the products may be unsafe, adulterated,
or mislabeled. Recalls are taken to protect the public. In the event of a food recall the CDE will
communicate recall information via e-mail. Our goal is to relay accurate information
to you as soon as possible. Our notification will include as much information
as the issuer provides us. We typically provide the item name, item number,
manufacturer’s name, lot codes, production dates, where the product was shipped, and
the reason for the recall. In the unfortunate event that we receive confirmation
from the USDA that a USDA Food is affected by a recall, we will let you know. As I said previously, our goal is to relay
accurate information to you as soon as possible. Our notification will include as much information
as the manufacturer and/or the USDA provides us. If the recalled USDA Food was shipped by our
state distribution centers, we can identify the agencies that were shipped the recalled
food. If the food is shipped to a private distributor
or processor, they will have record of agencies who received the recalled item and you should
be contacted by those entities as well. Recalled USDA Food should be isolated and
labeled so the food cannot be mistakenly used. Agencies should conduct an inventory to determine
the amount of product served, remaining in inventory at schools, warehouses, and with
their distributors, and any food that has been redirected for further processing. Agencies should return inventory information
to the state as soon as possible, ideally in 48 hours or less since we are required
by the USDA in Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 250.15(c) to identify how much recalled
food has been consumed and how much is still in storage, so please report back to us as
soon as possible the status of your recalled inventory on the forms we provide. During the USDA Food recall, the USDA will
issue further guidance and information including procedures or instructions for disposal, replacement,
and reimbursement of specific costs incurred as a result of such actions. Agencies that must destroy or dispose of recalled
USDA Food will need to report how the product was disposed and the costs related to the
disposal, including back-up documentation, such as receipts. Typically, reimbursable costs for USDA Foods
recalls are limited to storage, transportation, and processing. It is important to note that no two recalls
are alike; therefore, reimbursement costs may vary for different recalls. The CDE will send detailed instructions and
forms for reporting cases destroyed and costs incurred. After receiving these forms, the CDE will
submit a final report to the USDA of product destroyed and request reimbursement for those
costs incurred. After the USDA and vendor review the claim,
the reimbursement or replacement process can begin. In most cases, the vendor/processor is responsible
for replacing the affected product and reimbursing federal, state, and recipient agencies for
allowable costs incurred as a result of the recall. The USDA will request that vendors compensate
those states that have submitted timely documentation. Should payment from the vendor not occur,
the USDA may reimburse the state and recipient agencies for specified costs and seek reimbursement
of those expenditures from the vendor/processor. This entire process can take up to six months
or longer, depending on the extent of the recall. So to wrap this up, please read the instructions
and complete forms thoroughly and timely to help us close out a recall as soon as possible. We would appreciate it! For those that need the School Nutrition Program
Professional Standards Crediting Information we have provided it for you. If you have questions regarding this presentation
or any general questions regarding the FDP, you may contact me, Amy Bell, or Sherry Tam
by either of the methods listed on the slide. You may also e-mail questions and comments
directly to the Food Distribution Program at the address listed on the screen. We thank you for spending the afternoon with
us and hope you enjoyed today’s presentation. This now concludes our Webinar. Thank you so much for attending.

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