New York lab ups imported food sampling and starts fish speciation test

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The New York State Food Laboratory increased testing of food and beverage samples for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling by 10% last year.

The 67,000 square foot facility employs 43 microbiologists, chemists and support staff.

Sampling was up from 61,000 tests in 2015 to 67,000 in 2016.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said lab testing resulted in more than 300 product recalls and several investigations which led to removal of contaminated products from shelves across New York.

"As one of the most sophisticated food laboratories in the nation, New York's food testing capabilities help reduce the potential for foodborne illness, ensure food labels deliver what they promise, and make sure the rights of customers are put first," he said.

Fish speciation test and imported food focus

The New York State Food Laboratory implemented a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation last year; it also looked at olive oil to ensure that other, less expensive oils were not added and low-fat product testing to check items met the standard for low-fat.

Scientists also increased testing of imported foods, such as cheese and spices. They processed 1,073 imported food samples in 2016 – a 28% increase from 2015.

Spice samples were tested to identify unlabeled fillers, unapproved industrial dyes and harmful contaminants such as lead.

Ruiqing Pamboukian, US Food and Drug Administration, Office of Regulatory Affairs, laboratory accreditation program lead, said as a mentor lab, it has helped three mentee labs achieve accreditation.

Two of the mentee labs successfully achieved accreditation in 2016, while the third lab has scheduled on-site assessment recently. Their laboratory best practices have been valued and shared with other laboratories in our group."

The Department of Agriculture and Market’s Divisions of Food Safety and Inspection, and Milk Control and Dairy Services collected more than 23,300 food, beverage and milk samples, an increase of 17%.

Richard Ball, state agriculture commissioner, said: "Through the work of the staff at the New York State Food Laboratory, New York State is engaged in cutting-edge analysis that is not only helping to ensure the safety and quality of our food supply but also to advocate for more accurate and faster detection methodologies.

National presence

The lab uses whole genome sequencing to characterize foodborne pathogens.

It is a member of the national Food Emergency Response Network and participates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PulseNet network on public health surveillance and foodborne illness outbreak investigations.

The lab has a cooperative agreement with USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to test produce and dairy products for pesticide residues in support of the USDA Pesticide Data Program.

Chris Papas, USDA pesticide data program sampling manager, said: "For 25 years, the New York Department of Agriculture and the Markets Food Laboratory Division has been a valued partner in the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, providing reliable data to help assure consumers that the food they feed themselves and their families is safe."

Joe Corby, Association of Food and Drugs Officials executive director, said: "This country could never develop an integrated food safety system without the active participation of our public health and food testing laboratories.

“AFDO is especially impressed with the contributions of officials from New York Agriculture and Markets’ Food Lab who have volunteered their time on committees, workgroups, and other formalized efforts designed to help assure a safer food supply for all."

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