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Understanding the USDA Organic Label

Understanding the USDA Organic Label

Understanding the USDA Organic Label

Amidst nutrition facts, ingredient lists, and dietary claims on food packages, “organic” might appear as one more piece of information to decipher when shopping for products.  Understanding what the organic label means can help shoppers make informed purchasing choices.

Organic is a labeling term found on products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. The National Organic Program – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service – enforces the organic regulations, ensuring the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal. Read more »

Plenty! of Good Ideas for Growing and Sharing Healthy Food

Plenty! volunteers deliver homemade canned soup and apples to neighbors with school-aged kids. When schools are closed due to weather, families relying on school lunch and breakfast can really use this extra help.

Plenty! volunteers deliver homemade canned soup and apples to neighbors with school-aged kids. When schools are closed due to weather, families relying on school lunch and breakfast can really use this extra help.

In Southwest Virginia, a unique agricultural operation seeks to provide something that many in the community don’t have … plenty. The 18-acre combination vegetable farm/food bank/food hub on the Little River welcomes all to sample the bounty of sustainably-grown products.

Plenty! Farm began with a trip to a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I was interested in taking extra beet greens to the local food pantry and was surprised to learn that no one had the ability to receive the vegetables or a means to distribute them. That’s when McCabe Coolidge and I began to collect unsold or extra produce from local farmers and gardeners. Read more »

Serving Spoons and Healthy Habits – Encouraging Positive Mealtimes and Supporting Family Style Meals in Child Care New materials available as part of Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children: Provider Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

Serving Spoons and Healthy Habits – Encouraging Positive Mealtimes and Supporting Family Style Meals in Child Care

Serving Spoons and Healthy Habits – Encouraging Positive Mealtimes and Supporting Family Style Meals in Child Care

From the foods we serve to the conversations we share, involving young children in mealtimes creates a positive eating environment for everyone to enjoy. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides almost 4 million nutritious meals and snacks each day to children and adults in child care and group day care settings. These mealtimes provide a tremendous opportunity to help children establish healthy eating habits. CACFP providers are engaging children in cooking, serving, and other mealtime activities as a way to get children interested in new foods and to encourage healthful eating behaviors. 

On July 20, 2016, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) addressed these important topics by adding two new supplemental materials to an existing, comprehensive resource for CACFP providers, Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children: Provider Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The new supplements, Create a Positive Meal Environment and Support Family Style Meals, offer fun ways child care providers can continue to create positive meal environments and adopt family style meals with children in their care. Through these practices, child care provides can help children try new foods, recognize foods from different food groups in a meal, and practice table manners. Both additions also offer tips and suggestions for including nutrition education activities during and outside of mealtimes.  Read more »

Promoting Healthy Choices Throughout the School Day

Promoting Healthy Choices Throughout the School Day

Promoting Healthy Choices Throughout the School Day

Schools across the country are working hard to ensure students experience a healthy school environment from the moment they walk in the door until the final bell rings.  Imagine for a second that you are back in sixth grade.  In health class, you’re learning about the food groups and how to eat a balanced diet.  During P.E. class, your teacher stresses the importance of exercise and leading a healthy lifestyle.  School breakfast and lunch included colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.  In between periods you are hungry for an afternoon snack from the school’s vending machine. Your eye catches a glimpse of a flashy picture of a bottle of water with a logo down the side of the vending machine, and you think to yourself that water would be a great thirst quencher. Still, you scan the vending machine and see that your options are bottles of water, 100 percent juices, and unsweetened tea—all healthy options! You are thrilled that the school is supporting your resolve to maintain a healthy lifestyle by making healthy choices so readily available. Feeling good about the choices you’ve made so far that day, you are able to choose a healthy snack to compliment the healthy meals you have eaten throughout the day. Read more »

USDA Grants Helping the Specialty Crop Industry Reach Food Safety Goals

Fresh blueberries

Fresh blueberries

Across the country, farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops – or specialty crops – are being asked to be certified in USDA’s voluntary audit program, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  From restaurants and hotels to schools and institutions, wholesale buyers want to ensure the fruits and vegetables they purchase meet food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  One challenge for growers in many states is the lack of in-state auditors to perform the GAP certification reviews.

One solution has been to leverage another USDA resource to educate and train producers, handlers and buyers on-farm food safety practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops which includes supporting GAP certification audits. Since 2006, these grants have launched over 107 GAP and Good Handling Practices (GHP) outreach and training projects, and funded 116 GAP/GHP cost share projects through State departments of agriculture. Read more »

Researchers Use NIFA Grant to Develop Rapid Food Safety Test

Measurement setup for direct pathogen detection on food

Measurement setup for direct pathogen detection on food. (Courtesy of Dr. Bryan Chin)

July is the height of summer grilling season, and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

Keeping the food on America’s tables safe to eat is a major priority at USDA, where we are constantly working to find innovative ways to stay a step ahead of bacteria and other dangerous contaminants that can cause illness. Thanks in part to a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a research team led by Dr. Bryan Chin, director of the Auburn University Detection and Food Safety Center, has developed a cheap, portable and easy-to-use new screening tool to test fresh fruits and vegetables for the presence of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses.

Currently available screening methods for produce can be costly in terms of time, equipment, and expertise. The multidisciplinary research team of engineers, microbiologists, and genomicists based at Auburn University and the University of Georgia wanted to create a new method that could be used more broadly. Read more »