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Training Growers, Growing Trainers: Preparing for New Food Safety Requirements

Are you preparing to meet the new Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety rule standards?  Have you heard about Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)?  Maybe you’ve heard that they can get buyers to notice your products and improve your access to the market place - but you need more information to know if it can work for you.

USDA is hard at work connecting growers with training and resources to support GAP certification and expand their food safety know how. We’ve made big investments in food safety education for growers in recent years, supporting projects through AMS grant programs—the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Federal-State Market Improvement Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program, and Local Food Promotion Program.

Protecting Your Family from Food Spoilage

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

What happens to foods when they spoil and are they dangerous to eat? What causes foods to spoil and how? These are questions we often get on USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline. Read on to learn the science behind food spoilage.

NIFA Helps Chart National Course for Healthy Nutrition

Since the economic downturn of 2008, sufficient access to healthy foods has been a serious problem for many Americans. As a result, more than 17 million households confront hunger throughout the year while more than 12 million children are obese.

To address these problems, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has worked with five other USDA agencies to develop science-based food and nutrition strategies. These agencies joined the Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research – a collaboration among the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services and several other government agencies – to develop the National Nutrition Research Roadmap (NNRR). This roadmap characterizes and coordinates federally funded nutrition research to identify future research needs and opportunities.

USDA Innovations to Reduce Food Waste Help the Farmers' Bounty Go Farther

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.

We’re all fortunate to live in a country that has one of the most productive and efficient food production systems in the world.  The United States produces over 430 billion pounds of food each year.  However, nearly a third of the food produced by farmers goes uneaten, representing $161.6 billion.  That’s enough food waste to fill 44 Sears Towers every year.  To meet this challenge, USDA scientists are developing innovative programs and using cutting-edge research to reduce food waste on the farm, on supermarket shelves, and in the home.

Shiitake Mushrooms: A Commercial Forest Farming Enterprise

Helping landowners care for their forests and strengthen local economies is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service, USDA National Agroforestry Center and their partnering organizations.

According to Ken Mudge of Cornell University, any farmer with a woodlot and the drive to diversify should consider forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms. They are well suited to the increasing demand for locally produced, healthy foods.

With a retail price of $12 to $20 per pound, the demand for shiitakes is considerable throughout the Northeast. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms encourages landowners to learn more about managing their forests.

In New York, Youth Learn Leadership by Doing

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.

In Binghamton, New York, at-risk youth are learning to take charge of their lives by working on a variety of community improvement projects that they design and carry out.

CITIZEN U stands for Citizen You and Citizen University,” said Dr. June Mead, director of New York’s Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) program.  “(It’s) a metaphor for creating a university environment in which teens are empowered to become community change agents and graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and citizenship.  Through their involvement, teen leaders gain knowledge and real-world application of civic engagement.”

Bioenergy, Bioproducts Education Program Builds Student Confidence, Equips Educators

Being an educator is in Morina Ricablanca’s blood. Growing up in a family of teachers in the Philippines, she knew she would someday pursue a career in education. Ricablanca participated in an outreach program assisting troubled youth while attending Manuel L. Quezon University Law School in Manila. She realized then it was time to join the family business of teaching.

Her decision has led her to a successful career working with special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in rural North Carolina. Ricablanca was named the “2014 Teacher of the Year” for her school district, partly due to her work helping three of her students win the school’s science fair.

USDA Goes All in for Produce Safety Outreach

For the produce industry, the summer and fall of 2015 is more than a chance to share a new season of crops with customers. It’s when several of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws will become final. FSMA will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing foodborne illnesses. My colleagues at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) have been working hard with our partners to expand our outreach efforts about food safety to help the produce industry prepare for compliance.

One of the ways that we help the industry prepare for compliance is through a successful partnership with Cornell University and the FDA via the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA).  We recently renewed this partnership through a Cooperative Agreement that enables the three entities to devote funds for training and outreach events. Since 2010, AMS has enjoyed working with our colleagues to engage with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars.

Enhancing the Flavor of Food through Plant Breeding

Vegetables are becoming more flavorful and sustainable through plant breeding. Plant breeding is at the core of the seed-to-table movement—using selective breeding to develop plant varieties that possess exceptional culinary properties and the ability to thrive in a sustainable production system.

One plant variety leading the way in this movement is a series of mini-butternut squash developed by a Cornell University researcher, Michael Mazourek. He began the project as part of a $2.5 million Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant awarded to Oregon State University, which resulted in a national network of organic plant breeders, the Northern Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). The grant is funded by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Meeting to Prepare Industry for Food Safety Modernization Act Compliance

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a public meeting held by our colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide an update for the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This law will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. I spoke on behalf of my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – as part of a panel of domestic and international officials who provided the government’s perspective on how we would like to see the final law implemented.

With several of the law’s rules set to become final later this summer and early in the fall, the FDA is still seeking comments and suggestions for the best way to implement FSMA. The meeting, which included breakout sessions where participants could start an open dialogue about the implementation, is part of the FDA’s emphasis on educating the industry before regulating it.