Lab Matters Summer 2021 - Page 30


Kansas Department of Agriculture Laboratory :

Protecting Animals , Humans and the Land They Share

By Jody DeVoll , MAT , writer
In a state where cattle outnumber people by a margin of two to one , the Kansas Department of Agriculture Laboratory ( KDA Lab ) plays a pivotal role , guarding the health of animals , humans and the land they share . This regulatory facility supports state inspection programs for dairy , foods , meat and poultry , pesticides , feeds , fertilizer and industrial hemp . It is accredited for a total of 50 methods . Additionally , the Kansas Metrology Laboratory provides calibration service for compliance with mass and volume standards .
The KDA Lab dates from 1953 when Kansas established a Seed and Chemical Laboratory in Topeka . The state added a Weights and Measures Laboratory in 1971 , and the two laboratories were joined to form the KDA Lab in 1998 .
Moving During a Pandemic : Not Recommended
To strengthen communication with agency headquarters and open opportunities for university collaboration , the KDA Lab relocated in March 2020 to a new , 20,000 square foot facility next to the Kansas Department of Agriculture headquarters in Manhattan . It opened its doors in mid-March — just as the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic . Laboratory staff , who had barely begun the complex process of moving into their new facility , had to go home and shelter-in-place for two weeks . Once back at the laboratory , they were able to bring the most critical instruments online within a couple of weeks , but innumerable deliveries , connections , validations and troubleshooting remained . It took six months to complete most of the work .
The Metrology Laboratory , however , did not open until May 2021 after a 15-month battle with environmental control . Metrology requires meticulous control of the laboratory environment , and Kansas weather ranges from hot and humid in the summer to cold and dry in the winter . After months of HVAC troubleshooting , the opening was a triumph .
And there was another hurdle . A year had passed since the laboratory ’ s last ISO 17025 accreditation assessment and assessors were not working in the field due to the pandemic . Staff considered their options and proposed a virtual inspection . Using a tablet , they walked the assessor through the lab showing the setup of the instrumentation and demonstrating methods . Thanks to their ingenuity , laboratory accreditation was successfully renewed to ISO 17025 .
The KDA Lab operates on a budget of $ 2.7 million , with $ 2.2 million from the state and $ 500,000 from the federal government . The Metrology Laboratory operates on a fee-for-service basis .
Sally Flowers grew up surrounded by animals . There were chickens in the backyard and a small family “ hobby ” farm where she cared for her 4-H livestock . As she grew older , she did meat judging and Future Farmers of America livestock projects in addition to her work with 4-H . Given this background , it was natural that she would major in animal science at the University of Florida where she earned a bachelor ’ s in animal science . She went to Penn State to earn a master ’ s in animal science and began work on a doctorate when fate intervened . An advisor asked Flowers to take on a project in food science . She agreed and was soon captivated by microbiology . She decided to earn her PhD in that discipline .
With degrees in hand , Flowers was recruited to open a commercial food testing laboratory in Oklahoma City . Next came another degree in clinical laboratory science and a position leading quality control for a vaccine manufacturer . She then moved to the public sector as the director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture Laboratory . When the directorship at the KDA Lab opened , Flowers pursued the position , which offered more regulatory testing programs and a brand-new facility .
Eight months after her arrival in Manhattan , she is thrilled with her new position . “ I know this sounds a bit overthe-top but , honestly , I don ’ t feel like I ’ m coming to work every day . I ’ m here to do something I love that gives me the ability to serve . And , really and truly , there is something new every day .”
The laboratory is funded for 15 full-time staff . It is a young team due , in part , to the relocation . Vacated positions have been filled with new staff , and most applicants were new to the field . Flowers seeks opportunities for mentorship to advance the careers of her team when setting training priorities , making new hires and arranging for professional networking . She plans to supplement her full-time staff with students as part of a partnership with Kansas State University , which owns the land where the new laboratory was built . She plans to offer both part-time jobs and project-based internships for college credit .
Given the KDA Lab ’ s broad portfolio , it helps to have versatile staff . Several microbiologists can assist in other sections of the laboratory because they
28 LAB MATTERS Summer 2021
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