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Now That’s Special: USDA Program Fuels Economic Development

A mother and son shop for veggies and flowers—both specialty crops—at a local farmers market.  Over half the foods we eat are considered specialty crops.  Support for this vital sector of agriculture relies on the stability provided through a comprehensive Farm Bill.  Photo by Melinda Shelton.

A mother and son shop for veggies and flowers—both specialty crops—at a local farmers market. Over half the foods we eat are considered specialty crops. Support for this vital sector of agriculture relies on the stability provided through a comprehensive Farm Bill. Photo by Melinda Shelton.

“Specialty crops”—the label may sound like exotic foods or something reserved for a special occasion, but this area of agriculture represents more than half the foods we eat on a daily basis.  Defined as fruits and veggies, tree nuts, herbs, dried fruit, decorative plants and flowers, these crops are not only a key component of a healthy diet—they are also key to sustaining U.S. farms and agriculture. Read more »

What Would You do to Keep Your Food Safe During an Emergency?

September is National Preparedness Month, and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service reminds you to plan ahead in order to keep your food safe just in case you encounter hurricanes, flooding, fires, power outages or other emergencies that threaten storage conditions.

On any given day, maintaining the proper temperature and sanitation of food storage areas should prevent bacterial growth and keep your food safe to eat.  However, severe weather and other emergencies can compromise these conditions.

Knowing what to do during emergencies can minimize the need to throw away food and the risk of getting sick.  You and your family should have an emergency plan in place that includes food and water safety precautionsYou might find  “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes“  helpful as you can print it out and use it as a guide on what to do during a power outage.  You also can get timely food safety information relevant to a particular state or territory on Twitter by following @XX_FSISAlert.  Just replace the XX with each state or territory’s postal abbreviation. Read more »

2013 USDOT TIGER Awards Help Rural Communities Thrive

Rural communities are the life blood of our great nation. Here at USDA we work every day to make sure that rural Americans have access to programs that help them create opportunity across America’s small towns and communities.

Tomorrow, I will sit down with the members of the White House Rural Council to discuss ways we can continue to address the many unique challenges facing rural America. Today, in advance of our meeting, I am pleased to highlight an effort by the U.S. Department of Transportation to strengthen one of the key objectives of the White House Rural Council by increasing access to dependable transportation in rural communities across 23 states.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explains more about this effort in a blog from the U.S. Department of Transportation Blog: Read more »

Calling All Ag Supporters: Tell us What’s at Stake Without #MyFarmBill

At USDA, we remain committed to sharing with all Americans the need for a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to keep up momentum in American agriculture, grow the rural economy and create jobs.  And today, we launched Instagram, @USDAgov, to highlight photos and videos from around the country that bring into your home the dynamic beauty of rural America and the hard work of people who live there.

But that’s not all – we want to hear from you! Read more »

Full Disclosure: Changes to Poultry Inspections Needed to Protect Public Health

Cross posted from Food Safety News:

For the past 15 years, USDA conducted a pilot project to inform how we modernize our inspection process – all to ensure that meat and poultry is safe to eat. Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), released a report on the project, known as the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), and how FSIS has relied on it to propose a modernized approach to inspecting poultry.

While an initial scan of the press coverage may lead you to believe that GAO discredits this proposal, that is not the case. GAO gave HIMP a thorough review and made just two recommendations, both of which FSIS is already working to fulfill.

GAO chose not to include some facts that also deserve public disclosure. FSIS put forward this proposal because data shows that a system like HIMP will prevent at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually. The study that FSIS has conducted of HIMP provides an appropriate basis on which to judge the merits of this system. Approximately 10 years ago, FSIS asked an independent group of experts in poultry microbiology, statistical evaluation, poultry food safety and public health to evaluate our study. Read more »

Schools Around the Country Successfully Implementing New Meal Standards

Today a news report claimed that schools across the country are dropping out of the National School Lunch Program because the standards are too difficult to implement.

The truth is that the vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our Nations children lead healthier lives. Even before the new standards took effect and more resources were available, many schools across the country were leading the way with healthier options and appropriate portion sizes. In fact, schools that adopted the changes earlier report that participation increased as students and parents became accustomed to the healthier options. USDA continues to provide additional flexibility and technical assistance to schools as they all now work to offer healthier meals. We also encourage the very few eligible school districts that have chosen not to participate in the program to take steps to ensure all children will still have access to healthy, affordable meals during the school day. Read more »