EBT Retailer Stocking Requirements
This webpage explains how to fulfill the FNS inventory criteria and offers advice to new SNAP retailers on how to accept EBT payments. Its goal is to assist them in identifying what is essential, to ensure that SNAP recipients have enough access to staple foods. The Food and Nutrition services requires SNAP retailers to keep a specific inventory of goods on hand. Your business must adhere to the EBT stocking requirements of either Criterion A or Criterion B, as described below.
Staple Food Inventory
The majority of small grocers, convenience stores, and other retailers are accepted under Criterion A. The business must continuously have 3 stocking units of 3 different varieties from each of the 4 categories of staple foods in order to meet Criterion A.
3 Stocking Units of
3 Staple Food Varieties
in each of the
4 Staple Food Categories
3 Stocking Units of
1 Perishable Staple Food Variety
in at least
2 Staple Food Categories
36 staple food stocking units are needed to meet Criterion A.
Staple Food Sales
To qualify under Criterion B, more than 50% of a business’s total revenue must come from the sales of staple foods. Typically convenience stores or small grocers do not fit under this criteria. Specialty stores are more commonly approved under Criterion B.
If Staple Food Sales are more than 50% of Total Gross Retail Sales, then the store meets Criterion B requirements.
Staple Food Requirements
Either Criterion A (stock of staple foods) or Criterion B (sales of staple foods) must be met by businesses that are SNAP-authorized. Staple foods are basic food items that make up a large portion of a person's diet and are often eaten as part of a meal cooked at home. Heated, prepared or accessory foods (multi-ingredient foods where the main ingredient is sugar) are not considered staple foods.
The lists also specify which foods are classified as perishable staple food variety, such as frozen staple food items or fresh, unrefrigerated, or chilled staple food items that would spoil or significantly deteriorate in quality after 2 to 3 weeks at room temperature. Please be aware that a food item that is shelf-stable and does not need to be refrigerated until it is opened is not a perishable food.
Additionally, an illustrative example list of stocking units are outlined below. An item that is typically sold in a can, bunch, box, bag, or package is a stocking unit.
The following lists of examples are provided for illustration and guidance purposes only; and shouldn't be taken as a completed list of all the different kinds of staple foods or staple food stocking units.
Fruits & Vegetables
In the fruits and vegetable category of staple foods, the word “variety” means the kind of product or the main ingredient. For example, apples, bananas, and lettuce all represent separate varieties. This also means that 100% apple juice and applesauce are not considered two separate varieties, because they are both considered apples. For multiple-ingredient food products, the first ingredient determines the variety. For example, a can of ravioli with tomato sauce listed as the first ingredient would count as a staple food variety in the fruits or vegetables category. (i.e. tomato)
Outlined below is an illustrative list of 8 acceptable varieties of staple foods in the fruits or vegetables category. This is not a complete list of every variety that is acceptable. Listed below are two different examples of staple foods for each variety. Please note that for the multi-ingredient food examples, the items would only be acceptable if the main ingredient is in the fruits or vegetable staple food category.
- Apples (dried apples or pre-cut apple go-packs*)
- Bananas (fresh bananas* or frozen bananas*)
- Lettuce (such as fresh head of iceberg lettuce or pre-cut and bagged romaine lettuce)
- Orange juice
- Pineapples (canned pineapple rings or fresh whole pineapple)
- Potatoes (potatoes, frozen French fries, or frozen tater tots)
- Pumpkin (canned pumpkin or fresh whole pumpkin)
- Tomatoes (canned tomato soup or sun-dried tomatoes)
In the dairy category of staple foods, the word “variety” means the kind of product or the main ingredient. For example, yogurt, cheese, and milk all represent separate varieties. This also means that Swiss cheese and Cheddar cheese are not considered separate varieties because they are both cheese. Also note that plant-based dairy products also count as a staple food variety in the dairy category based on their main ingredient and the traditional dairy product that they substitute for. For multi-ingredient food products, the variety they fall under is determined by the first ingredient listed. For example, a jar of Alfredo sauce with milk listed as the first ingredient would count as a variety in the dairy staple food category (i.e. milk). Exceptions to this would include plant-based dairy products, butter substitutes, and infant formula. These are considered varieties of staple foods in the dairy category even though the first ingredient listed is not always dairy-based.
Outlined below is an illustrative list of 9 acceptable varieties of staple foods in the dairy category. This is not a complete list of every variety that is acceptable. Listed below are two different examples of staple foods for each variety. Please note that for the multi-ingredient food examples, the items would only be acceptable if the main ingredient is in the dairy staple food category (with the exceptions of plant-based milk alternatives, butter substitutes, and infant formula).
- Almond-based milk (such as refrigerated almond milk or shelf-stable almond milk)
- Buffalo milk
- Butter (frozen sweet cream butter or fresh salted butter)
- Butter substitutes (such as margarine or non-dairy spread)
- Cheese (fresh deli sliced cheddar cheese or packaged grated parmesan cheese)
- Cheese curds
- Cheese: cheddar
- Cheese: mozzarella
- Cheese: parmesan (including grated cheese)
- Cheese: ricotta
- Condensed milk 13. Cottage cheese
- Dairy creamer
- Dairy-based salad dressing
- Fresh nonfat peach yogurt
- Goat’s milk
- Infant formula (such as liquid, ready-to-feed formula or powdered milk formula)
- Malted milk
- Milk: powdered
- Milk: skim milk
- Milk: whole milk
- Oat milk
- Rice milk
- Sour cream (such as fresh, lite sour cream or fresh, organic sour cream)
- Soy infant formula (such as liquid, ready-to-feed formula or powdered soy formula)
- Whey, milk powder
- Yogurt: fresh whole milk French vanilla
- Yogurt: soy
Meat, Poultry & Fish
In the meat, poultry, or fish category of staple foods, the word “variety” means the kind of product or the main ingredient. For example, chicken, pork, and beef all represent separate varieties. This also means that beef steak and ground beef are not considered separate varieties because they are both beef. For multiple-ingredient food products, the first ingredient determines the variety. For example, a can of beef stew with beef listed as the first ingredient would count as a staple food variety in the meat, poultry, or fish (i.e. beef).
Outlined below is an illustrative list of 8 acceptable varieties of staple foods in the dairy category. This is not a complete list of every variety that is acceptable. Listed below are two different examples of staple foods for each variety. Please note that for the multi-ingredient food examples, the items would only be acceptable if the main ingredient is in the meat, poultry, or fish staple food category.
- Beef (including fresh ground beef)
- Beef jerky
- Catfish (frozen catfish filet or smoked packaged catfish)
- Chicken (such as fresh chicken cutlets or frozen chicken nuggets)
- Chicken eggs (such as fresh chicken eggs or liquid chicken egg whites)
- Guinea Fowl
- Lamb/Mutton (such as fresh lamb chops or fresh ground lamb)
- Pork (such as pork loin, bacon, or fresh sliced ham)
- Tuna (such as fresh albacore tuna steak or canned albacore tuna fish)
- Turkey (such as fresh deli-sliced turkey or fresh ground turkey)
Bread & Cereals
In the bread and cereals category of staple foods, the word “variety” means the kind of product or the main ingredient. For example, buns/rolls, bread, and pitas all represent separate varieties. This also means that hotdog buns and hamburger buns are not considered separate varieties because they are both buns/rolls. For multiple-ingredient food products, the first ingredient determines the variety. For example, a frozen chicken pot pie with wheat flour listed as the first ingredient would count as a staple food variety in the bread or cereal category (i.e. wheat).
Outlined below is an illustrative list of 9 acceptable varieties of staple foods in the bread and cereal category. This is not a complete list of every variety that is acceptable. Listed below are two different examples of staple foods for each variety. Please note that for the multi-ingredient food examples, the items would only be acceptable if the main ingredient is in the bread and cereal staple food category.
- Bread: banana
- Bread: brioche
- Bread: multigrain
- Bread: sourdough
- Bread: whole grain
- Buns (hot dog or hamburger)
- Cold breakfast cereal (rice-based cereal or oat-based cereal)
- Infant cereal (wheat-based infant cereal oat-based infant cereal)
- Pasta (gluten-free spaghetti or whole wheat rotini)
- Pasta: macaroni
- Pitas (e.g., low-carb pita* or whole wheat pita)
- Rice (bag of rice or a rice-based frozen meal)
- Rye Bread
- Tortilla: corn
- Tortilla: flour
Accessory Foods: Snacks, Desserts, and Complementary Food Items
When establishing a company's eligibility for FNS, "Accessory Foods" do not count as staple foods; however, once the company has been certified, these products may be sold to EBT recipients. Generally speaking, food items that are consumed as snacks or sweets, as well as food items that accompany or supplement meals like, the majority of beverages and spices, are called accessory food products. Examples that qualify AFTER FNS is approved are included below.
- Powdered, dried, or extracted spices or seasonings;
- Baking soda and baking powder;
- Sugar, honey, maple syrup, aspartame, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, and any other natural or artificial sweeteners;
- Soda pop, sports or energy drinks, iced tea, fruit punch, mixers for alcoholic beverages, water, and
all other carbonated or uncarbonated beverages (except milk, plant-based milk alternatives, and
100% fruit or vegetable juice);
- Monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate, olestra, and any other food additives or any food product
that is edible but non-caloric and non-digestible;
- Vegetable oil, olive oil, shortening, lard, safflower oil, and any other solid or liquid oils or fats (except
butter and butter substitutes);
- Ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, hot sauce, mustard, vinegar, relish, horseradish, chutney,
duck sauce, marmite, and all other condiments;
- Vanilla extract or other flavor extracts and cooking wine;
- Gravy and bouillon; and
- Any food product with a main ingredient. That appears on this list or other guidance as an accessory
food item (except infant formula).
- Potato, corn, wheat, tortilla, pita, and vegetable chips, crisps, sticks, and straws; onion ring snacks;
corn nuts; snack mixes; crackers; pork rinds; pretzels; pre-popped or un-popped popcorn; and
cheese puffs or curls.
- Doughnuts, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, snack cakes, muffins, pastries, sweet rolls, pies, cakes,
pudding, churros, scones, gelatin desserts, and any packaged mixes intended to create any of the
- Mints, chocolate, marshmallow, gum, toffee, brittle, fudge, marzipan, nougat, candy bars, and candy
of all kinds;
- Ice cream, ice milk, frozen yogurt, custard, whipped cream, sherbet, sorbet, gelato, granita, Italian
ices, frozen carbonated beverages, snow cones, ice pops;
- Any food product with a main ingredient that appears on this list or other Agency guidance as an
accessory food item.
Prepared, Heated, & Cold Foods
Staple foods are the only items that count when determining a business’s eligibility to participate in the SNAP program. For the purposes of establishing whether a business satisfies Criterion A or Criterion B, heated meals, hot foods, and cold prepared foods are not considered as staple foods and are not taken into account.
However, while deciding whether a business is a restaurant, warm foods, hot foods, and cold prepared foods are all taken into account. A business is considered a restaurant if heated foods, hot foods, and/or cold prepared foods make up more than 50% of what it sells. Restaurants are not eligible for SNAP as retail food businesses, with the exception of the states that run a Restaurant Meals Program.
Home Preparation and Consumption
Heated foods, hot foods, and cold prepared foods are not considered foods intended for home preparation and consumption for retailer eligibility determinations. Regardless of if the retailer intends for the food to be prepared or consumed by the SNAP participant in their home or offsite, or the intent of the SNAP participant to prepare or consume the food purchased at home or offsite, the heated, hot, or cold prepared food item would not be considered in establishing if the retailer is eligible to participate in SNAP. For example, a cold prepared sandwich or salad, while eligible to be purchased with SNAP benefits, would not be considered a staple food item when determining if a firm is eligible to participate in SNAP. Likewise, a product that is heated or cooked, before or after purchase, would not be considered a staple food item for retailer eligibility purposes. The Food and Nutrition Service has sole authority in determining if any food item the firm sells is a staple food intended for home preparation and consumption.
Heated foods includes foods cooked or heated on-site by the retailer before or after purchase, regardless of whether cooking/heating is provided for free or at a cost. When foods are heated by the retailer after purchase, this is sometimes referred to as the “you-buy-we-fry” business model; however, foods cooked or heated by any method (e.g., baked, grilled, etc.) count. Examples of heated foods include, but are not limited to:
- pizza (sold cold and then baked or heated);
- chicken (sold cold, frozen, or uncooked and then cooked or heated ); and
- seafood, such as fish, shrimp, crabs, or other shellfish (sold cold, frozen, or live and then cooked, steamed, or heated).
Hot foods includes any food product that is hot at the point of sale, regardless of who cooks/heats it. Examples of hot foods include, but are not limited to:
- coffee or tea;
- roast or fried chicken; and
Cold prepared foods includes any food that:
- is made by the retailer (for example, food products that are assembled, cooked, mixed, or otherwise prepared by the retailer),
- is made or prepared by the retailer on the premises of the firm,
- is sold cold, and
- requires no additional preparation for immediate consumption.
Examples of cold prepared foods include, but are not limited to:
- fresh salads, fruit cups or salad bars;
- meat and/or cheese platters;
- prepared meats or seafood; and
- Soft-serve or scooped ice cream served in cups, bowls, or cones (distinct from a sealed container of ice cream).
Restaurant Meal Program Overview
The Restaurant Meals Program (R.M.P) is a state option that enables some SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase prepared meals at restaurants. These customers may not be able to make meals for themselves or may not have stable housing to store and prepare food. The R.M.P. is currently only participating states are Arizona, California, Maryland, Michigan, and Rhode Island.
Each state may establish its own criteria for determining how many and which restaurants they will accept as participants in the R.M.P. The restaurant must offer one meal at a discounted price and the food must have nutritional value.
To participate in the RMP, the restaurant must:
- Be in a state that has an RMP.
- Get approval from the state and provide a signed agreement to FNS.
- Be authorized by FNS to accept SNAP benefits.
To be eligible for the RMP, SNAP clients must be certified for SNAP in a state that has an RMP and all members of the household must be either:
- Elderly (60 years of age or older);
- disabled (receives disability or blindness payments or receives disability retirement benefits from a governmental agency because of a disability considered permanent);
- homeless; or
- a spouse of a SNAP client who is eligible for the RMP.
Once approved, regular EBT cards will NOT work at the restaurant. SNAP clients who are eligible will have an EBT card that is SPECIFICALLY CODED by the state to allow their cards to be accepted at participating restaurants. An EBT card will automatically be declined if the SNAP client is not eligible.
Want to find out more about accepting EBT/SNAP at your business?