Eligible Food Items
Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy any food for the household, such as:
- Fruits and vegetables;
- Meat, poultry, and fish;
- Dairy products;
- Breads and cereals;
- Other foods such as snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and
- Seeds and plants, which produce food for the household to eat.
In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.
Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco.
- Vitamins, medicines, and supplements. If an item has a Supplement Facts label, it is considered a supplement and is not eligible for SNAP purchase.
- Live animals (except shellfish, fish removed from water, and animals slaughtered prior to pick-up from the store).
- Prepared foods fit for immediate consumption.
- Hot foods.
- Any nonfood items such as:
- Pet foods
- Cleaning supplies, paper products, and other household supplies
- Hygiene items, cosmetics
“Junk Food” & Luxury Items
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (the Act) defines eligible food as any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households. The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits: alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
- Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
- Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items
Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome. Further detailed information about the challenges of restricting the use of SNAP benefits can be found here:
When considering the eligibility of energy drinks, and other branded products, the primary determinant is the type of product label chosen by the manufacturer to conform to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines:
- Energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label are eligible foods
- Energy drinks that have a supplement facts label are classified by the FDA as supplements, and are therefore not eligible
USDA Ask the Expert System
If you have a question about the eligibility of a product for purchase using SNAP benefits, read answers to popular questions in the USDA Ask the Expert system.
Chief, Retailer Management and Issuance Branch
Retailer Policy and Management Division
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
USDA, Food and Nutrition Service
3101 Park Center Drive, Room 404
Alexandria, VA 22302
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