Let's Get Ready to Survey!

An IDOE Brown Box to Bulk Special Edition

Dear Food Service Professionals,

It's almost time for schools to complete the annual pre-order (forecast) survey to make U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods (commodity) requests for the upcoming school year.

The survey will determine which foods will be delivered to the state-assigned warehouses and/or approved processors. Schools must complete the survey annually by the deadline in order to receive USDA Foods. The survey will open in mid to late January based on USDA's catalog open and close dates.

Planning Ahead

As school food service professionals continue to face challenges and uncontrollables, it is important to plan ahead. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) will be collecting pre-order (forecast) survey data to determine which USDA Foods the department will order. IDOE orders are based on whether there is enough school demand, if orders will meet full truck load requirements, and the number of trucks that need to be ordered from USDA.

USDA also utilizes the information from IDOE's pre-order survey to determine product demand, whether to enter into contracts with the vendors that prepare the USDA Foods, and if cancellations are necessary.

The annual pre-order (forecast) survey is mandatory for all schools that wish to participate in IDOE's Food Distribution Program in order to receive USDA Foods (commodities). This is how a school spends their planned assistance level (PAL, or entitlement) and makes food choices for the next school year based on school menus.

Both brown box (which is delivered to schools by state-assigned warehouses) and bulk pounds (which are sent to processors) are completed at the same time on the same survey.

PAL is the amount of funds available to schools to purchase USDA Foods. PAL is based on the number of lunches served during the previous school year multiplied by USDA's per meal rate. IDOE recommends that schools spend up to 102% of their PAL. PAL allocations can be found under the school's entitlement tab in CNPweb.

There are three ways to spend PAL. It can be diverted to the USDA DOD Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, Direct Delivery (Brown Box), and/or Processing.

Schools must be part of the National School Lunch Program and the Food Distribution Program. The school must have submitted or will have submitted reimbursement claims for at least one school year.

The survey must be completed under the surveys tab in the Food Distribution Program (FDP) link in CNPweb for the following school year. The survey should be completed in program year 2023.

Preparing for the annual pre-order survey

Check School Menus

A school's menu should be the driving force for ordering USDA Foods. Using cycle menus is a good recommendation for planning meals since they are repeated over a period of time.

School Food Authorities and Food Service Management Companies (FSMC) Collaboration

The school is the owner and authority for all their USDA Foods. There must be collaboration between both the school food authority and the FSMC for all survey and USDA Foods choices, inventory management, and decisions.


Analyze past and present data to make effective USDA Foods decisions.

Inventory Management

  • Know where inventory is located and how much is available at all times.
  • Avoid over ordering and duplicate ordering.
  • Use the first-in, first-out (FIFO) and first expired, first out (FEFO) rotation method.
  • Only order as much as the school can use within one school year. USDA Foods are intended to be used in the year they are ordered.

Monitor Inventory at the State Contracted Warehouses, Processors, and On-Hand to Prevent Duplication

  • Monitor brown box items by checking the product drawdowns under the surveys tab in CNPweb and by checking the current products listed under the inventory tab.
  • Log in to third party commodity tracking companies K12Foodservice and ProcessorLink. For questions regarding end products for bulk processed items, contact the Processing Company Brokers and Manufacturers. If you are not sure whether your school has products at the processor, contact the Food Distribution Specialist listed at the end of this newsletter.

Check the School's Previous Annual Surveys & Review Historical Data

  • The previous year's annual survey can be found under the appropriate program year under the surveys tab in the CNPweb. Use historical information such as production records, previous annual pre-order surveys, and cycle menus before making survey requests.

Procure All Processors

  • Schools must procure all processors before placing them on the survey. Suggestions on how to procure include taste tests, attending cuttings and food shows.

Complete Worksheets & Training (optional)

Annual Pre-Order Survey Tips

Start planning now!

Ensure that your school completes the survey by the deadline.

Verify that entitlement dollars diverted to the USDA Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program are listed correctly under the Entitlement tab in CNPweb. The deadline to make USDA DoD Fresh commitments is Friday, December 16.

IDOE recommends that schools spend up to 102% of its entitlement. This provides a cushion for USDA Foods in case USDA has cancellations.

Order USDA Foods in items and amounts that your school can use in one school year.

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