Large scale events like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion of 2010 and infant formula being purposely fortified with melamine in China cause great concern and heighten the level of awareness among Americans. Local, state, and national response mechanisms are in place to quickly respond to these situations and help mitigate unforeseen consequences while protecting public and environmental health. Unfortunately, response assets at every level can quickly become overwhelmed and may require surge or redundant capacity. The Food and Drug Administration Food Emergency Response Program (FDA FERN) is one system in place that is comprised of both federal and state laboratories that bring personnel, supplies, equipment, and expertise together to enable food and food product analyses during these situations. Many laboratories are volunteer laboratories, but 14 member laboratories have entered cooperative agreements and are now referred to as FERN CAP Laboratories. The Arkansas Department of Health-Arkansas Public Health Laboratory (ADH-PHL) became a FERN CAP Laboratory in 2009 and has been working over the past 1.5 years to provide the necessary foundation for launching the Arkansas FERN Chemistry Laboratory. This newly formed laboratory is part of rd the 3 generation of CAP laboratories. ADH-PHL provides a solid laboratory environment for maintaining the Arkansas FERN Chemistry Laboratory. Dedicated laboratory space, quality management systems, and additional surge staff, instrument, and space are available when needs arise. Laboratory systems are accredited through several internationally recognized accrediting authorities, and the entire laboratory staff brings great experience in the four key project areas of GC-MS, LC-MS, ICP-MS, and ELISA. ADH-PHL also partners with other federal response networks managed by the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency, namely the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) and the Environmental Laboratory Response Network (ELRN), respectively. This internal collaboration brings together a mix of diverse skill sets along with varying degrees of expertise and experience in a way that promotes interaction and program development. These relationships are crucial for mitigating large scale crises where human and environmental health is threatened. The Arkansas FERN Chemistry Laboratory has met 100% of the goals identified in the first 2 year cooperative agreement. The laboratory is fully staffed, has obtained, installed and trained on FERN instrumentation, has worked with FERN partners to successfully validate FERN testing methods focusing on GC-MS, LC-MS, ICP- MS, and ELISA, has participated and passed all proficiency tests provided by FDA, has exercised its response capabilities, and participates in technical and programmatic meetings, which include conference calls. This laboratory continuously focuses to improve emergency response and preparedness efforts and is working with FDA to find ways to enhance and expand FERN response initiatives. FERN analysts are actively evaluating diverse food matrix assignments provided by the FDA. These matrices include powdered milk, freeze-dried tuna, spinach, mandarin oranges, pineapple juice, chocolate syrup, soy-based baby formula, snack cakes, energy drinks, drinkable yogurt, balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing, catfish, and spirits. The project plan for this cooperative agreement continues to bolster emergency response and preparedness initiatives by assessing analytical capacity, cross-training staff to provide additional surge support, proficiency testing and exercising methodologies, and participating in various training forums including meetings and conference calls reviewing programmatic and technical information. Training sessions provided by FDA and other FERN partners will also be used to help stay abreast of the newest technology being used by FERN. The project plan also includes provisions to help expand and enhance FERN response initiatives. Matrix evaluations and analyte extension studies will continue as staff cross-train with and exercise validated methods. Quantitative capabilities and technology evaluations are being explored as a way to help prepare the FERN program for future responses and requests. To help streamline reporting of data, unique data management and processing tools are being developed to help expedite final reporting. All of these measures will benefit the FERN national response program as new information is disseminated through educational courses and lectures.

Public Health Relevance

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) brings personnel, supplies, equipment, and expertise together to enable food and food product analyses during large scale food events. The Arkansas Department of Health-Arkansas Public Health Laboratory entered an FDA Cooperative Agreement 1.5 years ago to build a FERN Chemistry Laboratory. All the goals of this cooperative agreement have been achieved, and a fully functional Arkansas FERN Chemistry Laboratory exists to support national, state, and local responses. This new project looks to expand and enhance FERN initiatives by targeting two key areas: 1) emergency response and preparedness activities and 2) growth and expansion efforts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Research Demonstration--Cooperative Agreements (U18)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZFD1-SRC (99))
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Arkansas State Department of Health
Little Rock
United States
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