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Three Ways USDA Helps Consumers Keep Foods Safe

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.

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

Have you ever wondered how to safely grill your burgers? How about determining the latest food safety recalls?  USDA provides a number of resources to ensure that you have access to the most up to date information on food safety.

Keeping the food on America’s tables safe to eat is a serious challenge and USDA is serious about helping families avoid dangerous bacteria and other contaminants that can lead to foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six Americans are likely to become ill from foodborne illness each year, but most of these illnesses are thought to be preventable. That’s why USDA provides a number of tools consumers can use in order to prevent or reduce the risk of foodborne illness that would spoil the meal.

Beef Retailers Now Labeling Mechanically Tenderized Beef

This summer and grilling season – which unofficially kicks off in less than two weeks with Memorial Day weekend – American shoppers will see an important new label on some steak packages. Beginning May 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service started requiring meat processors to disclose a common practice known as mechanical tenderization and provide safe cooking instructions so their customers know to handle these products carefully.

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process takes place before the beef is packaged but can also occur at the grocery store’s butcher counter, at a restaurant, or in the home. The blades or needles can introduce pathogens from the surface of the beef to the interior, making proper cooking very important. However, mechanically tenderized products look no different than product that has not been treated this way, so without disclosure on the label, consumers may not know about this higher food safety risk.

Buckle Up for a #USDARoadTrip

From barbecues to broadband, USDA’s broad portfolio impacts the lives of American families everywhere. This month, in celebration of our nation’s Independence Day, we’ll take a summer road trip across the U.S. Department of Agriculture and see some of the ways USDA is assisting rural communities to build a stronger America from sea to shining sea.

Our first stop will be USDA’s Consumer Food Safety portfolio to explore the ways USDA is working around the clock to ensure you and your families are protected from harmful foodborne illness. A big part of that is making sure you have the correct information at the time when you need it most. That’s why over the years, our Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has found increasingly innovative ways to bring our food safety information to you.

New USDA 'FoodKeeper' App: Your New Tool for Smart Food Storage

How many times have you gone into your pantry or refrigerator, only to find that what you were going to use in your meal was spoiled? The USDA, Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute would like to help you avoid that problem in the future with our new application, the FoodKeeper.

Every year, billions of pounds of good food go to waste in the U.S. because home cooks are not sure of the quality or safety of items. USDA estimates that 21% of the available food in the U.S. goes uneaten at the consumer level. In total, 36 pounds of food per person is wasted each month at the retail and consumer levels!

USDA Delivers on Ways to Prevent Food Waste

Less than 2 years ago, the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, with the goal of reducing food waste in the United States.  We set an ambitious goal of having at least 400 businesses, schools, and/or organizations join the challenge by letting us know what they are doing to reduce food waste in their operations.  USDA also committed to finding ways in which its 33 agencies and offices could help reduce food waste through policy, partnerships, and research.

As of today, we have surpassed our membership goal by signing up 1,313 participants in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

The number and diversity of participants joining the challenge are indicative of a growing movement to reduce food waste that is spreading across the country.

Do YOU Have a Plan to Keep Food Safe during Severe Weather?

This year has been an important reminder that disaster can strike anytime and anyplace.  Nearly every region of the country experienced some form of extreme weather event, including wildfires in California, extreme cold and snow through the Midwest and East, and destructive tornadoes in the South and Central Plains.

All of these events resulted in the loss of power for hundreds of thousands, and without power comes food safety challenges.  The temperature and sanitation of food storage areas is crucial to preventing bacterial growth, and severe weather and other emergencies can compromise this.  Knowing what to do in these instances can minimize the need to throw away food and the risk of getting sick.

Wolverine Packing Company Recall: What Consumers Need to Know

You may have heard about the FSIS announcement this week that the Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit, MI was recalling 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  This recall is linked to 11 patients in four states.  I wanted to provide an update on what FSIS is doing based on the evidence available.

FSIS was notified of the first illness on May 8 and immediately began working with our partners at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find the source of these illnesses.  Based on the initial findings in the investigations, FSIS and CDC were able to establish a direct link to ground beef products supplied by Wolverine Packing Company.

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.

Teaching Kids Food Safety Tips for a Healthy Next Generation

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ensures that America’s meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe and wholesome. Educating the public on proper food handling practices is a core agency mission as well. It’s even more important when one considers the impact safe food handling practices have on children.

With a generation of children brought up relating the word “celebrity” to chefs just as readily as they do to athletes, food safety education has a more receptive audience among teens and young adults than ever before. With the help of parents and guardians, the current generation of children could have fewer preventable cases of foodborne illness than ever before.

USDA Then and Now: Part II

This month, USDA is sharing the story of rural American creativity, innovation and constant adaptation to meet 21st century challenges in communities across the nation.

This blog is Part II of a photo series highlighting some of the ways USDA has worked alongside farmers, ranchers and rural communities to carry out our mission in the communities we serve nationwide. You can see Part I here.