More than Just a Food Laboratory :
New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets
by Jody DeVoll , MAT , writer
Bread , produce , spices , animal feed , dried fruits , dairy products , pet treats , fertilizer , alcohol and meat — this odd assortment is all on the menu in the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets Division of Food Laboratory
. This regulatory laboratory tests these products for microbiological , physical and chemical hazards , as well as verifying that food labels are truthful and accurate . New Yorkers can count on the Food Laboratory to ensure their food , and food for their animals , is safe to eat .
New York State ’ s Food Safety program dates as far back as 1899 when the first food laboratory opened with a modest staff of two chemists and seven inspectors . In 1926 , the Department of Agriculture & Markets was established to provide oversight of agricultural and dairy products . Under its aegis , the former Bureau of Chemistry became the Food Laboratory .
Name notwithstanding , the Food Laboratory tests all food and feed samples collected in the state , from grocery stores , dairy plants , food manufacturers , food distributors and farms .
Operations : Collective and Strategic
The Food Laboratory operation is a collective and strategic enterprise . Scientists from the Food Laboratory meet regularly with food and dairy regulatory inspectors to prioritize sample types based on the risk associated with a particular commodity or regulatory-driven need , and determine what laboratory capacity they have to accept the number of samples that are delivered daily . Once a decision is made , inspectors travel to the selected sites to collect product samples and ship them to the laboratory for analysis . Samples may be tested in one or more of the laboratory ’ s four sections : Food Microbiology , Dairy Microbiology , Food Chemistry and Dairy Chemistry Testing .
If testing shows evidence of contamination or other irregularities , the Food Laboratory informs the inspector who collected the sample to determine what regulatory action should be taken . Depending on the regulatory action , the inspector notifies the establishment where samples were collected of its findings . Each Food Safety division ( Food Safety and Inspection or Milk Control and Dairy Services ) will follow regulatory procedures according to their policies . Adulterated products from interstate or international commerce are referred to either the US Department of Agriculture
( USDA ) or the Food and Drug Administration
( FDA ) for follow-up .
The Food Laboratory performs over 400,000 tests annually on an average of 20,000 samples . In 2020 , the work conducted by the Department led to 199 recalls and more than 2,203 seizures of adulterated or misbranded food .
The Food Laboratory relocated to a newly constructed three-story building in 2013 a part of a multi-year project funded by the state . The 67,000 square foot facility is home to 38 microbiologists , chemists , managers , and support staff . The second floor is dedicated to chemical food testing , including pesticide residues and dairy analysis . Microbiological testing is performed on the third floor where readyto-eat foods , milk and dairy products are tested for foodborne pathogens and insanitary conditions indicators .
The Food Laboratory also serves as a training facility and hosts training in collaboration with the Department , local colleges and federal partners .
The Food Laboratory has a broad range of equipment and instruments . Examples of scientific instruments currently active include but are not limited to : real-time PCR for rapid screening for foodborne pathogens , automated biochemical testing for the identification of microbial pathogens , whole genome sequencing , ultra-performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry ( UPLC / MS / MS ), gas chromatography tandem mass spectrometry ( GC / MS / MS ), and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry ( ICP / MS ). These latest examples are used for the detection of harmful chemicals in food products such as heavy metals or pesticide residues .
NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets Food Laboratory staff . Photo : NYS Food Lab
From her undergraduate years , Maria Ishida , PhD has made laboratories her professional home . After landing a laboratory fellowship as an undergraduate , she pursued laboratory positions throughout her master ’ s , PhD and post-doctoral training . In 2007 , she joined the Florida Department of
26 LAB MATTERS Spring 2021