A few years ago it became pretty clear that we were facing some budget reductions. At the time, we had no idea that our budget reductions would be as extensive as they turned out to be. However, we did know that if we were going to maintain our laboratory capacity to protect the folks of AZ, we’d have to diversify our funding sources. We looked toward the federal government primarily (mostly the FDA), but also toward places like the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission. We’ve been quite successful on both fronts in the laboratory, and we’ve been able to just about break even in terms of capacity after our steep state budget reductions.
A couple of weeks ago our Lab found out that we’ve been awarded a new cooperative agreement from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, which is part of the Food Emergency Response Network. The new grant will support the development of new methods and validation of new technologies to rapidly detect pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli in food allowing for more rapid recalls in instances where food is contaminated. We recently used some of these technologies to isolate E. coli from certain kinds of cheese.
Our new funding will also cover training activities as part of the FERN Regional Training Program where laboratory professionals and National Guard Civil Support Teams from other states come to Arizona to be trained on new state of the art instruments and methods developed to detect not only dangerous pathogens in food but also toxins and poisons in food. Finally, we were one of the few states selected to participate in developing methods to detect melamine in pig tissues as part of an ongoing USDA surveillance program for melamine in the food supply. Thanks to laboratory staff who participate in these very important FERN programs as we have been able to secure this funding and more importantly contribute to better food safety not only in Arizona but across the nation.