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Teach Your Growing ‘Superhero’ to Defeat Bacteria, Use Their Powers to be Food Safe at Any Age

The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) wants you to add food safety to your back to school list.

The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) wants you to add food safety to your back to school list.

“Aw, Mom, I’ll be fine,” says a teen off to college for the first time when cautioned about handling food safely.

An elementary school student tells his dad not to mention putting the cold pack in his lunchbox. “Don’t bug me in front of my friends,” says the gradeschooler who feels embarrassed. “Charlie’s folks don’t make him keep his lunch cold.”

Strong, healthy students of all ages may feel invincible to becoming ill from food. It may be the “superhero” mentality of video games and movies or just the optimism of youth. After all, if the food looks and smells good, what can be wrong with it? Read more »

Next Year at School: New Standards Point to Healthier Snacks and Other Competitive Foods

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, “competitive foods” in schools (a la carte and vending machine items) will be subject to new nutritional standards.

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, “competitive foods” in schools (a la carte and vending machine items) will be subject to new nutritional standards.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, “competitive foods” in schools will be subject to new nutritional standards. Competitive foods include à la carte cafeteria items like pizza, French fries, and ice cream, as well as snacks and beverages sold in vending machines or at snack bars, school stores, or other locations.

Referred to as “competitive foods” because they compete with meals served through the National School Lunch Program, these foods and beverages are currently inconsistently regulated and frequently high-calorie, low-nutrient options. Competitive foods are more common at secondary than at elementary schools. A 2005 survey revealed that 32 percent of elementary schools and more than 60 percent of secondary schools offered non-milk a la carte items. Vending machines were found in 27 percent of elementary, 87 percent of middle, and 98 percent of high schools. Read more »

The Next Generation of Statisticians

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

One of the most exciting aspects of my job as the head of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and an advocate for statistical literacy is to see students coming into the profession of statistics. We are fortunate, according to Bob Rodriguez, past-president of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in a column published in ASA’s AMSTATNEWS, “that the number of students majoring or minoring in statistics is soaring because of positive experiences in AP Statistics courses. The word is out that statistics is a ‘must’.”

Engaging students even earlier than high school is important not only for developing future statisticians but also so that they understand the importance of responding to surveys.  Both private and government statistics, including those about agriculture from my agency, are dependent on voluntary survey response. Read more »

Start A School Garden – Here’s How…

Teachers and students from Adams-Friendship Middle School in Adams, Wisconsin are growing a beautiful People’s Garden in the interior courtyard of their school.

Teachers and students from Adams-Friendship Middle School in Adams, Wisconsin are growing a beautiful People’s Garden in the interior courtyard of their school.

Numerous excellent school garden programs have sprouted up across the country. School gardens often provide food that improves a child’s diet and nutrition, areas for learning, places for pleasure and recreation, as well as a continuing lesson in environmental stewardship and civic pride. But how do they take root?

School gardens are sown with similar considerations but vary based upon its geographic location, funding, grade level involvement, size, type and purpose. For anyone looking to begin a gardening program at a school, here are some tips to consider before you get growing:

Read more »

MyPlate Goes To College

MyPlate On Campus Ambassadors are encouraged to use resources, such as this 10 Tips handout, to promote healthy eating to their peers.

MyPlate On Campus Ambassadors are encouraged to use resources, such as this 10 Tips handout, to promote healthy eating to their peers.

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion launched a new initiative this past March, MyPlate On Campus, to help spread healthy eating messages to young adults during their college years.  MyPlate On Campus is a unique program that encourages students to improve their own eating and physical activity habits as well as promote healthy eating to their peers. Most college students are emerging out on their own for the first time and perhaps vulnerable to the busy days of assignments, eating on-the-go, and making their own food decisions.  MyPlate On Campus provides students around the country with the tools to communicate the messages supporting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to their campus community.  Students who are interested in promoting health and wellness are invited to sign up as a MyPlate On Campus Ambassador and become a member of the USDA/CNPP Nutrition Communicators Network. Read more »

“USDA Tender” – A Cooperative Effort with the U.S. Beef Industry

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness, using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations.

Tenderness is one of the most significant factors affecting the overall consumer acceptance of beef cuts.  Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beef Quality Grading program is a useful tool in predicting overall consumer acceptance of beef, other factors besides those assessed by the USDA Quality Grading System affect beef tenderness.  In other words, beef that may not grade to the highest USDA Quality Grade (USDA Select or Choice vs. USDA Prime) may in fact be rated just as tender by consumers.  Similarly, certain cuts of beef, no matter how high their USDA Quality Grade, may not be as tender for some consumers.

To address these issues and provide consumers with a more useful purchasing tool, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) worked with academia and industry to develop an accurate system to determine when consumers perceive beef cuts to be either tender or very tender.  Based on an objective scale, the system ensures that specific beef cuts consistently meet these established thresholds.  Thanks to the collaborative efforts between AMS and these groups, approved beef processors can now market products as USDA-Certified Tender or Very Tender through product labeling, advertisements, and promotions. Read more »