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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
While most people have a mental image of research that involves scientists in lab coats, bubbling test tubes and beakers, and technical language that can seem complex, much of the groundbreaking research conducted by USDA scientists actually ends up on your plate, in your home, or on your back. Their discoveries in the lab truly translate into science you can see.
For example, many of us make a conscious effort to eat healthier and cut calories, but it can be tough when faced with a favorite snack, like French fries. USDA scientists have figured out a way to make French fries healthier. Before frying, scientists exposed potato strips to a few minutes of infrared heat. This forms a crispy outer shell on the outside of the fries, which helps to reduce their oil uptake and ultimately reduces calories per serving. If adopted commercially, this method is great news for both food processors and our waistlines. Read more »
While rates of Salmonella illnesses remain stubbornly high in this country, the United States is continuing to rely on a 60-year-old poultry inspection system developed under the Eisenhower Administration. Our knowledge of foodborne illness and poultry processing has improved significantly since then, and our food safety measures should too. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has examined new approaches to poultry safety through an extensive multi-year pilot project. In January 2012, FSIS put forward a modernization proposal based on this project because the data showed modernizing our procedures to combat invisible pathogens, rather than relying extensively on visual inspection, could prevent 5,000 foodborne illnesses per year. As a public health agency, it is crucial that we make use of 21st century science to reduce pathogens and save lives.
Some of the changes being proposed in the modernization plan concern some groups who misunderstand what FSIS is putting forward. In particular, some have claimed that the allowed speed increase for evisceration lines would lead to higher injury rates among poultry plant workers. But a newly released report provides evidence that this isn’t the case. Read more »