Lab Matters Winter 2017 | Page 37

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Laboratory evaluation officer Kathy Pieper performs a standard plate count on milk in the dairy laboratory Selective agar plates used to screen food samples for pathogens await further analysis animal feeds and has been working over ten years under a US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) grant for the Feed Safety and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy / Ruminant Feed Ban Support Project .
Duane Pearson , supervisor of the Residue Laboratory , taught science at Norris Public Schools in Firth , NE , for a year before seguing to laboratory practice in 1977 . He began as a chemist in Nebraska ’ s Food and Dairy Laboratory and became the inaugural supervisor of the Residue Laboratory when it was created in 1996 . For ten years , Pearson managed the Federal Insecticide , Fungicide , and Rodenticide Act laboratory program that analyzed environmental samples collected throughout Nebraska . He oversaw the accreditation of the Residue Laboratory to ISO / IEC 17025:2005 and has managed the Food Emergency Response Network ( FERN ) program in the Residue Lab for the past eight years .
John Slattery , supervisor of the Food Laboratory and Dairy Laboratory , joined the Nebraska Department of Agriculture in 2012 , after 12 years overseeing QA / QC in various industry laboratories . Slattery now manages the Food Laboratory ’ s FERN program and the Dairy Laboratory ’ s milk and milk products program . He co-wrote the Food Laboratory ’ s quality manual and oversaw its accreditation to ISO / IEC 17025:2005 .
The laboratory ’ s 19 employees include three laboratory supervisors , 12 chemists , two laboratory scientists , one staff assistant and Flowers . There are no current vacancies .
The laboratory ’ s $ 3.3 million annual budget comes mostly from state general funds ( 38 %) and federal grants ( 21 %), supplemented by inspection and licensing fees and monies in a revolving carry-over fund .
The Agricultural Laboratories consist of four sub-laboratories .
The FFAL Laboratory conducts macro- and micronutrient analyses to verify the accuracy of ingredient lists for animal feeds , fertilizers and agricultural lime products . Specific tests include soil pH neutralization with limes , assays to detect drugs and antibiotics used as livestock growth promotants , mycotoxins testing on grains , Salmonella testing on pet foods , and microscopy and PCR testing to look for prohibited substances in bovine feedstuffs to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy , also known as mad cow disease .
The Dairy Laboratory operates under FDA regulations , performing “ Appendix N ” testing under the National Conference of Interstate Milk Shipments Guidelines . The laboratory ’ s FDA-certified laboratory evaluation officer conducts site visits of all Nebraska milk-testing laboratories to verify compliance with the Appendix N program .
The Food Laboratory — a FERN member — tests food taken from grocery shelves , as well as food supplied by the US Department of Agriculture ( USDA ) Food
Safety Inspection Service ( FSIS ). The laboratory , says Flowers , “ participates in a lot of FERN exercises to verify capacity and capability .”
Like the Food Laboratory , the Residue Laboratory tests human foods . However , instead of microbiological or toxin testing , it looks for poisons , pesticides and other chemical residues . The laboratory responds to occasional requests to assist with potential cases of food tampering and adulteration , as well as law enforcement investigations related to poisoning .
Laboratory results are reported to the regulatory arm of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture , which determines if violations of state statutes or other regulatory limits have occurred and , if so , takes appropriate legal action .
Success Stories
• The laboratory obtained four competitive federal grants — from the FDA and USDA , FSIS — to “ help with daily operating expenses , support ISO 17025 QA managers and help us acquire equipment so we can stay up-to-date .”
• In 2015 , both the Food and Residue labs achieved accreditation to ISO / IEC 17025 standards .
• Both the Food and Residue laboratories are FERN members .
• In 2017 , the Agricultural Laboratories will celebrate “ 50 years of service to the people of Nebraska .” The laboratories and agency are planning several commemorative activities .
• In 2015 , the Food Laboratory initiated two pet food recalls due to Salmonella and also identified Listeria monocytogenes in Jeni ’ s Ice Cream , a finding that prompted a national recall that coincided with a high-profile Blue Bell ice cream recall . In 2016 , the laboratories supported investigations for multiple foodborne disease outbreaks in Nebraska , including one traced to E . coli O157 : H7 in flour , one traced to Salmonella in cucumbers and a third traced to Salmonella-tainted enchiladas sold from a food truck .
• Maintaining federal funding : “ Most of our grants have five-year terms . Once these grants end , we ’ re hoping to sustain our funding level so we can maintain ISO accreditation . That ’ s definitely a concern ; we need to be able to keep our QA managers on board .”
• Instituting an electronic laboratory information management system . “ We are mostly manual and paper-based . There are plans [ to move to an electronic system ]. We have to take baby steps first .”
• Becoming paper-free within the next five years .
• To add methods to the laboratories ’ scope of accreditation , as customer needs dictate .
• To achieve ISO accreditation for the FFAL laboratory within the next year or so .
• To continue to mentor other area laboratories going through the ISO 17025 accreditation process .
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