Lab Matters Spring 2017 | Page 37

member spotlight T  he laboratory’s work ensures the accuracy of product labels and exposes levels of contamination, if any. Service’s TOX 1 method for poisons, toxins and other chemical contaminants (e.g., drugs) for use in catfish to enable US catfish producers to certify safe consumer products. Staff The laboratory also has high-volume testing programs for: The laboratory employs one part-time analyst and 23 full-time staff members, mostly chemists. It also has three student interns. • Animal forage, such as hay or alfalfa, to document nutrient profiles via near- infrared spectroscopy. • Irrigation groundwater for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Revenue The laboratory’s yearly budget runs around $2.1 million, including about $1.6 million in state funding to support work for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce, about $240,000 of fee-for-service income and revenue from assorted grants and contracts. Testing “You name it, we test it,” said Brown. From petroleum products (about 2,000 samples/year) to animal feeds (2,000 samples/year) to fertilizers (1,200 samples/year) to food, the chem lab does, indeed, test most everything. The only testing it does not currently perform is biological testing, and this is due to a lack of samples. As Brown explains, “We do no sampling at all. Most of our work comes through the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce, which collects samples from gas stations, from complaint cases, • Chicken litter for poultry farmers, who must document levels of nitrogen and phosphate as part of their required litter management program. (The litter is often used as a fertilizer.) Success Stories • Obtaining ISO 17025 accreditation for the laboratory in November 2016. This effort was supported by FDA funding and covers six methods—“very ambitious”—for analyzing pesticides, heavy metals and aflatoxins in food, feed, water and environmental samples. • Collaboration: “There’s been a lot of opportunity for us to work in conjunction with a variety of state organizations and federal agencies— because of the oil spill, pesticide misuse cases and other events—and I’m always very pleased how well we combine our resources and work together.” Christine Rogers analyzes a forage sample via NIR (from r to l:) Gale Hagood, Ashely Meredith, and Jack Atkins prep fish samples for analysis etc., and is in charge of feeds, fertilizers and pesticides sold in the state.” The laboratory’s work ensures the accuracy of product labels and exposes levels of contamination, if any. It also supports criminal investigations, such as a case last year involving the unintentional poisoning o f an 18-month-old child due to improper pesticide use and a high-profile 2013 case involving the poisoning of Auburn University’s landmark oak trees. • Developing affordable services to meet the needs of state clients. Recently added fee-for-service work includes chicken litter and forage testing programs. Most of the laboratory’s food testing is done on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Health and in conjunction with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards initiative. Said Brown, “One result of the [2010 Deepwater Horizon] gulf oil spill has been a closer working relationship among federal and state agencies. We’re trying to be a bit more proactive with food surveillance, instead of reactive.” Food testing focuses on products “important to our state,” including commercial ice, shellfish, farm-raised Mississippi catfish, jams and jellies, honey, assorted corn-based products, and sweet potatoes and other vegetables. The laboratory is currently validating the USDA Food Safety Inspection PublicHealthLabs @APHL Challenge “Our biggest challenge is the state economy and its impact on our budget.” The laboratory has had two budget cuts already this year, and a third is likely. Goals • Maintaining ISO accreditation and expanding the scope of accreditation to include shellfish testing. • Expanding grant and contract funding. • Doing more with less: “We need to become more efficient at what we do and work smarter.” Brown has instituted an extensive cross-training program for staff, so they can perform at high levels in multiple areas of the laboratory, as needed. “We’ve worked really hard on becoming one big team.” Spring 2017 LAB MATTERS 35