Breonna Walker from Englehard Elementary School in Louisville, KY enjoys a nutritious and delicious school lunch. Photo courtesy Jefferson County Public Schools
The following guest blog from a school and community nutrition services director in Louisville, Kentucky highlights how non-profit School Food FOCUS relies on USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP) to help increase transparency and choice for school food purchases. USDA’s objective, third-party auditing services focus on increasing transparency from farm to market by offering verification based on clearly defined, implemented, and transparent process points.
By Julia Bauscher, Director of School and Community Nutrition Services, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, Kentucky
The first time School Food FOCUS brought together a group of school food directors like myself to talk about how we could improve the quality of chicken—the number one protein we serve to students—I was thrilled and a little daunted.
Schools across the country spend nearly $1 billion on chicken every year. That’s a lot of buying power. School Food FOCUS challenged us to think about the changes we can make to our food system if districts leveraged this buying power to create a demand for chicken that is better on the plate and for the environment. Read more »
An infographic highlighting example process points and the steps taken to create a Process Verified Program. Click for a larger version.
Product labeling is a contract of trust between consumers and producers. This is especially true for the foods we eat and the companies that sell them. The responsibility of regulating and monitoring food labels is shared between many federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA, and we recognize that there must be transparency and accountability before there can be public trust and understanding of product labels.
While my own agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), does not approve many product labels directly, we do provide a service where AMS auditors provide an objective, third-party verification on any food product that a company’s labeling claims are backed by plain language standards. Transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of this service, and we are continuously working to improve both for all of our auditing programs, with our most recent efforts focusing on USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP). Read more »
Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices. If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.” A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.
This is the sixteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.
Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be a challenge for the average consumer. Companies use production and handling claims as a way to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.
USDA certified organic products have strict production and labeling requirements. The U.S. organic industry is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Certified organic products are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances. Read more »
Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection. Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.
This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.
USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.
In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.
So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Read more »
Grapes like these may soon have the USDA Quality Monitored seal on their packaging.
When you think of what really makes fruit and vegetables stand out it usually comes down to quality. Determining quality – making sure your fresh food looks, smells, feels and tastes just the way you expect it to – is what USDA’s Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) does.
The program, run by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division, allows produce suppliers and others to have products inspected by USDA based on specific internal standards or U.S. grade standards. As a neutral third-party, USDA evaluates various commodities through QMP – everything from olive oil to canned, frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables. Read more »
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 »