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Category: Science

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 »

Measuring Hazelnuts in Oregon

Yamhill variety hazelnut orchard in Oregon

This is the oldest Yamhill variety hazelnut orchard in the State of Oregon. Yamhill is a newer, disease resistant variety developed by Oregon State University. The orchard is owned by Birkemeier Farms of Canby, OR.

Few realize that Oregon produces 99 percent of the hazelnuts in the United States. That means that an accurate forecast of hazelnut production in the Beaver state assists the industry in determining marketing plans and price. To do that, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service runs a joint project with the Hazelnut Marketing Board of Oregon, which allows us to measure the most accurate production yields and forecasts for hazelnut production possible. This project is called the Oregon Hazelnut Objective Yield Survey.

When it comes to forecasting production of a particular commodity, there are various methods we can use. Predominantly we survey growers to get their estimate of their own farm production. We combine the farmers’ responses with objective yield measurements. In brief, we use the objective yield survey to count and measure the crop prior to harvest so that we can see what kind of crop we can truly expect by the end of the growing season. Read more »

Citizen Science is Sound Science Provided by You

Volunteers traversing the North Cascades Mountains

Volunteers traversing the North Cascades Mountains looking to track butterflies. Photo credit: National Park Service

Have you ever seen a cool bird in your backyard and wondered if there was some way to share what you saw with others? Better yet, have you thought about sharing your observations and having them used to help study and conserve those birds? These thoughts are an indicator that you might have the makings of a great citizen scientist!

The Forest Service is engaged in a wide variety of citizen science projects that encourage public involvement in natural and cultural resource science and conservation. Volunteers can contribute by forming research questions, collecting and analyzing data, or interpreting results. If you have a sense of wonder and discovery, citizen science may be for you. Read more »

When it Comes to Cotton, Texas Rules

NASS interviewers conducting objective yield measurements

NASS interviewers conducting objective yield measurements in a field near Lubbock, Texas.

Lone Star state growers are responsible for 56 percent of the U.S. acres planted to cotton and about 45 percent of the total cotton production. But how do we measure this crop accurately enough to make dependable forecasts for cotton yield and production? That’s where our measurement process, known as the objective yield kicks in.

All of the objective yield measurements are done by a well-prepared team of National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) enumerators. For this growing season, we spent the week of July 12-14 training 43 enumerators with a combination of classroom and hands-on field practice. Since approximately 63 percent of the Texas crop, which represents 30 percent of the U.S. total cotton crop, comes from the High Plains of Texas, this group has the bulk of the samples in Texas. 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 »

Making Sure Consumers Get What They Pay For

Honey on biscuits

When ARS researchers wrote the definitive report on the composition of honey in 1962, they made it possible to detect whether other substances might have been added, thus allowing consumers to have confidence when the label says “100 percent honey.” (USDA-ARS photo by Scott Bauer).

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.

When you buy packaged foods at the grocery store, who makes sure what it says on the outside is true on the inside—whether you are reading “100 percent sweet honey” or checking the calories in a serving of nuts?

It never says so on the label, but many times the surety rests on the science of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Read more »