- The Obama administration announced new reforms to the National School Lunch Program. The rules limit the amount of salt and trans fat in lunch dishes, requires that all milk be 1% or skim, and sets calorie limits on meals. Schools are also required to increase accessibility to whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Previously, the rules limited the number of potato servings in school lunch menus each week, and further limited the amount of sodium in lunch dishes. Industry push-back prevented these reforms from being added to the final rules.
- Dudley Butler, a top Department of Agriculture appointee, resigned last week. Butler was in charge of addressing anti-trust concerns in the meatpacking industry. Four big meat packers dominate the market, which has driven many smaller ranchers out of business. Butler sought to restore competition to the industry by proposing a law to reform the way that meatpackers do business, but Congress refused to pass the bill. The meat industry has close ties and much lobbying power in Washington.
- New charges are facing Jensen Farms, the cantaloupe farm implicated in the recent Listeria outbreak that killed 30 people and sickened 146. The farm is being fined for failing to provide migrant workers with adequate, sanitary living conditions. Several workers lived in small motel rooms, which lacked basic facilities. Officials say this fine is not related to the outbreak.
- After about a year and a half of inspections and grading, the New York City Council will announce results of a recent survey which asked restaurants to give feedback on the city's new food safety grading system. Over 1,000 restaurant owners responded to the survey. There has been some public pushback from owners that the system, which assigns restaurants an A, B, or C grade based on sanitary conditions, is too punitive and does not focus enough on food safety education. Over 90% of New Yorkers approve of the new letter-grading system.
- The USDA has released an updated version of its Plant Hardiness Map, the first since 1990. The map identifies temperature zones across the country by average lowest temperature during the winter. This information can be used to plan which plants are best suited for your garden. Since 1990, many zones have gotten warmer. The USDA attributes some of this shift to climate change, as well as more advanced mapping techniques. Play around with the map here.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.