The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is committed to providing foods of high nutritional value to children and adults nationwide through a variety of programs. One of these programs is the Food Distribution Program, administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA. Surplus commodities from the market place such as meats, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are purchased by the USDA and delivered to State agencies through the Food Distribution Program. The foods are then distributed to schools, day care centers, other institutions, and food processors. Over 94,000 public and private schools receive donated commodities.
In the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) runs the Food Distribution Program. In order to ensure that the raw donated commodities and foods processed with donated commodities are of good eating quality, the NJDA has funded a program called Quality Audit in the Food Distribution Program in New Jersey. This project was initiated in 1979 and has continued for the past 21 years with objectives and priorities adjusted annually to meet the requirements of the New Jersey Food Distribution program.
Our responsibility in the quality audit program is to provide technical assistance in quality assurance to ensure consistent high product quality. The three major objectives for our involvement are: 1)Technical assistance to the NJ Food Distribution Program, 2) Review of products submitted for approval prior to contract, 3) Evaluation of complaint samples. Our lab performs informal sensory evaluation on products to determine eating quality of texture, aroma, taste and flavor attributes. Formal sensory evaluation is performed on an as need basis. When product quality is deemed unacceptable, processors are contacted and suggestions are made to change formulations for quality improvement. We also train field staff in methods for determining eating quality and sampling methods for test purposes.
We are working to build a web page with information on the quality of donated commodities and products made from donated commodities. To date, we have started to compare the textural aspects of common school lunch items. Quantitative data collected from our texture analyzer can be correlated with sensory evaluation results, and the findings can be described in a manner useful to School Food Service Directors/Personnel in determining product quality. A Food Service Director may some day be bale to compare the eating quality of multiple brands of a specific product via the web, and then choose which one to purchase based on this information.