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New Frontiers of Food Safety

Over the last few decades, food safety has been marked by profound social, economic and political evolutions and technological breakthroughs such as 3D printing of food and the adoption of laboratory testing for pathogens. Laboratory testing for pathogens continues to evolve with the advancement of genome sequencing. However, there is always more to do.  There is a potential for advancing existing and promoting greater gains in the future.

What if there were more apps that could allow farmers, producers, consumers and stakeholders access to USDA data? The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) posts a variety of reports using data collected while inspecting and testing meat and poultry products, but more and more, people want direct access to the information.  For instance, what if a consumer could walk into a grocery store, scan a product, and instantly know where it was produced or where it was farmed? What if a farmer had an app that directly informed them about crop forecasting or crop variations? What if people and organizations who would never have had the opportunity before could individually and collectively mash up data in unique and exciting ways, leading to new opportunities to solve complex problems? The potential is endless as more tools are becoming available.

Liberating data in machine and human readable formats is a 21st century way of sharing information.  By sharing data and the tools to analyze it, people can develop new insights and applications to help themselves.  For agriculture, shared research can move us all closer to addressing the global food demands on the horizon. Our food and agricultural challenges have no borders and neither should our data.  At USDA, we recognize the importance of communities collaborating and generating ideas.  Open data in agriculture allows us to pool our existing resources while pioneering fresh, new approaches to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead.

One of the USDA data sets published this quarter offered Salmonella and Campylobacter datasets for the first time. FSIS is dedicated to reducing Salmonella as seen by the Salmonella Action Plan, as well as committed to being transparent.  “The Food Safety and Inspection Service recognizes the value in public data access and sees this dataset as an important step in that direction.  We’re interested to see how the public uses this dataset to help keep food safe and prevent foodborne illnesses,” said Christopher Alvares, Director of FSIS’ Data Analysis and Integration Staff.

Citizens can realize considerable value if more open policies, specifically Open Data, become more widely adopted throughout our agencies. In a recent study published by McKinsey, in which it examined the anticipated impact of Open Data across seven domains (education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, health care, and consumer finance), it found that Open Data could contribute a minimum of $3 trillion in additional value annually. So for areas of economic struggle, or where there is an emphasis on revenue generation and job creation, Open Data could lead to new opportunities across a number of industries and, by extension, across their societies as a whole.

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