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Category: Food Safety

Food Safety Scientists Double Up on Ground Beef Testing This Summer

As grilling season heats up, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is enhancing our food safety testing program for ground beef.  While FSIS has a range of safeguards to reduce E. coli in ground beef, this summer we will begin new testing to improve the safeguards against Salmonella as well.  Salmonella is commonly found in ground beef and, in fact, caused an illness outbreak in January 2013 in six states.  Salmonella is an especially difficult bacteria for food safety experts to address because it is so prevalent in almost all food sources.

Recognizing that we need more information about the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef to better prevent food-borne illness, FSIS is “super-sizing” our pathogen testing program to include Salmonella every time our laboratories test for E. coli in samples of ground beef and ground beef sources. Because the samples taken for E. coli testing are much larger than those we have taken in the past for Salmonella, there is higher likelihood that we will be able to detect the bacteria if it is present. Read more »

Experience Earth Day with USDA

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. Hikers who choose to explore the entire stretch will go through 14 states and on eight national forests. (U.S. Forest Service)

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. Hikers who choose to explore the entire stretch will go through 14 states and on eight national forests. (U.S. Forest Service)

Earth Day is a reminder that some of our best moments can be spent in the great outdoors.

Getting outside is one of the best ways to feel re-invigorated, whether on a short hike to the Crags Trail on Pike National Forest or on a longer exploration of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, which winds through 14 states and across eight national forests.

The range of outdoor activities run the gamut from hiking, camping, boating, bird watching, and experiencing wildlife to photographing nature, hunting and fishing. Read more »

Microwave Pasteurization: A New Industrial Process Producing High Quality and Safe Food

A Washington State University-led research team member works on the prototype microwave assisted pasteurization system (MAPS) unit.  MAPS allows packaged foods to be safely processed more quickly and at lower cost than conventional processes. Photo courtesy of Washington State University.

A Washington State University-led research team member works on the prototype microwave assisted pasteurization system (MAPS) unit. MAPS allows packaged foods to be safely processed more quickly and at lower cost than conventional processes. Photo courtesy of Washington State University.

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, like innovative ways to make food safer.

More than 90 percent of American households have microwave ovens where people heat their food, yet this same technology is seldom used for large-scale production in the food industry.

As home cooks know, microwave ovens do not excel at heating food evenly.  The lack of commercial-scale microwave processing technology is, in part, due to the challenge of designing equipment that is capable of pasteurization – heating all of the food evenly to a predetermined temperature for a certain length of time.  Pasteurization makes food safe to eat, by inactivating bacterial and viral pathogens that can make people sick. Read more »

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. Read more »

“Safety Datapalooza” Brings More Usability of FSIS Salmonella Data

On Jan. 14, 2014, nearly 400 people participated in the second annual “Safety Datapalooza” at USDA headquarters.  The event, hosted by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Public Engagement, U.S. Department of Transportation and USDA, recognized innovators from the private, nonprofit and academic sectors who have freely used available government data to build products, services and apps that advance public safety in creative and powerful ways.

During a breakout session, Christopher Alvares, Director of FSIS’ Data Analysis and Integration Staff, explained the agency’s recently released Salmonella Action Plan and testing programs aimed at reducing the number of illnesses associated with FSIS-regulated products using new standards, strategies and innovation.  “FSIS produces regular reports on Salmonella contamination in regulated product, but the data had never been available in machine-readable format or in a single place,” said Alvares.  Up until now, this data had been available only from report to report spanning many years.  Today, this data is available as one source and in one place. Read more »

In Indiana, the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program Opens Meatier Markets for Small Processors

Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, a small family business run by the Vinciguerra brothers of Cleveland, Ohio, takes sausage seriously.  For over fifty years, the company has been supplying Cleveland restaurants and grocery stores with Sicilian, Andouille, Cajun, mild and hot chicken and veal sausages. But despite strong demand for its products, it took a USDA program to make Lou’s sausage available outside Ohio.

In 2012, Ohio was the first state to join USDA’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program (CIS).  The program, authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, allows inspected and approved small state-inspected meat processors, like Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, to bear an official USDA Mark of Inspection and ship meat and poultry across state lines. Previously, only products from federally inspected plants could be sold in other states. To participate in the program, state certified plants like Lou’s Sausage work with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to integrate their systems to meet federal inspection standards.  Once inspected and approved for compliance, these smaller plants can ship across state lines and are poised for bigger market opportunities. Read more »