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Category: Food Safety

NoroCORE: A Comprehensive Approach to a Near ‘Perfect’ Human Pathogen

Blond woman with a painful expression sitting on a grey sofa at home with her hands placed on her stomach

About 5 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year. (iStock photo)

Today’s guest blog features the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE- Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education), a food safety initiative with the ultimate goal to reduce the burden of foodborne disease associated with viruses, particularly noroviruses. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States accounting for around 5 million of the 21 million annual cases associated with contaminated foods. Cost of illness is estimated to be billions of dollars per year.

By Dr. Elizabeth Bradshaw, NoroCORE extension associate, and Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, NoroCORE scientific director

Even if you have not experienced a norovirus infection personally (consider yourself fortunate!), you probably know someone who has or have heard of an outbreak of the “stomach flu.”  Most people know norovirus by its symptoms: a couple of memorable days of vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with a fever and a headache. Read more »

How Did We Can? – New Online Exhibit Looks Back

Can All You Can graphic

USDA’s National Agricultural Library launches its latest Web exhibit “How Did We Can?” on home canning in the United States.

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.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Library (NAL) recently launched its newest online exhibit, “How Did We Can?The Evolution of Home Canning Practices.” The exhibit follows the evolution of home canning in the United States and the progression of associated food safety guidelines. Canning aids in food preservation by removing microorganisms responsible for decay through heating and creating a seal to prevent recontamination. Home canning held an important role in 20th century food preservation, particularly through the two World Wars, and continues to be practiced today.

“How Did We Can?” highlights changes in home canning guidelines based on a growing understanding of bacteriology. Around the turn of the 20th century, the four most prominent canning techniques were oven, open-kettle, water bath, and pressure canning. By the end of World War II, the USDA recommended only two techniques: water bath for high-acid foods and pressure canning for low-acid foods. Those recommendations remain the same under the current USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Dr. Dawn D. Walters

Dr. Dawn D. Walters

Dr. Dawn D. Walters, a public health veterinarian and current Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) discusses her role in food safety on tape.

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Dr. Dawn D. Walters, a public health veterinarian and current Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer in Arizona. Dr. Walters has committed the past six years to food safety by working for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). With her big smile and enthusiastic personality (yes, I’ve been lucky enough to meet her), it is no surprise that Dr. Walters also serves as an outreach liaison for FSIS. Dr. Walters has also served as an interim Frontline Supervisor and the District Veterinary Medical Specialist. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal and Poultry Science and a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Tuskegee University. Read more »

Using Science to Help Keep Food Safe: A Day in the Life of a USDA Laboratory Auditor

Isaac Gene Sterling

A fascinating part of Gene Sterling’s job is learning the different uses for the products that are being tested by USDA audited laboratories across the country. Did you know that peanuts are used in sauces, gravy and soup mixes as well as snack foods?

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.

From soup to nuts, we use science to help ensure the quality of agricultural products for consumers worldwide. As a Microbiologist for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I am one of a small group of highly-qualified auditors that travel across the country to certify over 70 private laboratories. These labs are consistently testing to verify the quality and wholesomeness of U.S. food and agricultural products.

Our Laboratory Approval Service approves, or accredits, labs that test agricultural products in support of domestic and international trade. Our programs cover a variety of products from aflatoxin testing in peanuts and tree nuts to export verification for meat and poultry products. 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 »