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September is National Food Safety Education Month

Can you believe that September is already here?  It may not feel like fall where you are, but, slowly, our focus has begun to shift from summer fun to returning to school and learning.

For more than twenty years, September has been recognized as National Food Safety Education Month.  The National Food Safety Education Month theme for 2016 is “Notorious Virus.”  So what better time to consider learning more about food safety and, in particular, learning more about food safety education in the school environment?

Don't be a Zombie - Prepare for Emergencies

In this guest blog, Abby Hostetler urges people to prepare for emergencies and describes an innovative display that Purdue Extension used at the Indiana State Fair to drive home that point. Because September is National Preparedness Month, it is a good time to think about emergency planning.  Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make an Emergency Communication Plan for you and your family because you just don’t know when disasters will impact your community.

By Abby Hostetler, EDEN Disaster Communications Specialist, Purdue University

Nearly 60,000 visitors to this year's Indiana State Fair encountered zombies lurking around in the corners. Actually, they saw cartoon zombies that were part of an interactive exhibit, Don't Be a Zombie - Be Prepared. The exhibit consists of a walk-though maze and interactive video game designed to simulate a zombie apocalypse.

The goal is to help families learn about disaster preparedness in a fun way. In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched their Zombie Preparedness campaign to much acclaim and success. The CDC campaign was a gory take on zombies and aimed at a teenage demographic. Once the Extension Disaster Emergency Network (EDEN) got permission from the CDC to adapt the materials into an interactive display, Purdue Extension used third grade classrooms to help tie into the rise of the zombie fad in pop culture while still keeping the materials friendly to all ages.

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.

The U.S. Food Safety System Has Come A Long Way in 50 Years

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.

By the time this blog posts today, most readers will have already enjoyed at least one meal. Over their breakfast—fresh fruit, a bacon and egg sandwich, or maybe a grab-n-go energy bar—Americans were probably thinking about all the tasks that meal would fuel them to do for the day, and not whether their food could make them ill. But a strong and diligent network of public servants at the federal, state and local levels were thinking about how to protect you from foodborne illness over their breakfasts this morning, and they’re still thinking about it now. Their job day in and day out is to make sure the food on America’s tables—including yours and theirs—is safe to eat. They are the best in the world at what they do, and they’re constantly getting better.

I have proudly been a part of this team since 1978, when I accepted a job with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as an inspector in a Dalhart, Texas beef facility. FSIS is the federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of America’s meat, poultry and processed egg supply, and we work hand in hand with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as state and local departments of health and agriculture. Over the years, I worked my way up from that entry level position in Dalhart, to managing FSIS' Dallas District, to eventually managing the entire agency as Administrator. In my nearly 40-year career, I have seen major changes in the U.S. food safety system.

USDA Launches a One Stop Shop for its "One Health" Approach to Zoonotic Threats

At USDA, we use a One Health approach that embraces the idea that problems arising at the intersection of the health of humans, animals, and the environment can be solved only through a coordinated multidisciplinary approach.  This approach embraces the idea that a disease problem impacting the health of humans, animals, and the environment only can be solved through improved communication, cooperation, and collaboration across disciplines and institutions.

Because the One Health work that we do spans across many USDA agencies, we are launching a centralized web portal page to better help our stakeholders and the public better access our information.   This page features USDA’s collective body of work on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), avian influenza and swine influenza as well as other One Health resources.

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.

Bridging Nutrition and Tradition: Abriendo Caminos

When preparing your meal, what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Do you have the right ingredients to create a meal that is both fulfilling and packed with enough nutrients to meet the daily requirements? But, what if the only foods that were available were unhealthy?

According to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), 30 percent of Hispanic households with children are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to healthy food. Many of the options that are available to these families do not meet the standard requirements for a sufficient healthy, balanced diet.

Connection Between Children's Emotions, Mental Skills and Eating Habits

American children are gaining weight. Obesity now affects one in six children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a major concern because extra pounds can increase risk for developing serious health problems in children, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

While strategies to reduce childhood obesity include improving diet and increasing exercise, USDA scientists are looking for ways to prevent behaviors in children that may lead to obesity. Nutritionist Kevin Laugero, who works at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California, recently investigated the relationship between obesity, unhealthy eating behaviors and decreased mental skills in 3- to 6-year-olds.

Farm to Preschool Helps Healthy Habits Take Root Early

“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.

Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Tapping into the Economic Potential of Local Food Through Local Foods, Local Places

Cross-posted from the White House Rural Council blog:

At USDA, we understand the enormous market potential of local food. Industry estimates suggest that local food sales in America have nearly doubled in recent years, jumping from $5 billion in 2008 to $11.7 billion in 2014. We’ve invested more than $800 million in 29,100 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects over the past six years to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses tap into that market.

Indeed, local food is a national phenomenon that has significant impact on every state’s economy. But local food is not only a business opportunity for agriculture, it can also be a development tool that allows communities to maximize the impact of what is grown and made locally. Local food projects can help grow local food economies and drive downtown and neighborhood revitalization, which is what the Administration’s Local Foods, Local Places initiative is all about. And this year, the initiative is particularly focused on ensuring that kids and families in need have an opportunity to benefit from the development of local food systems. This initiative is part of the White House Rural Council’s “Rural Impact” effort to improve quality of life and upward mobility for kids and families in rural and tribal communities.