FDA FERN Microbiological Cooperative Agreement Program: Enhanced Food Safety and Security Testing Program Abstract: As a direct result of the funding support provided through the first three-year MCAP award, the Colorado laboratory established solid foundations for enhancing our food testing capabilities. Instrumentation placed at the outset of the award interval was deployed immediately. Other crucial instruments were purchased or brought to active status during the second year of the agreement. Through training and proficiency testing Colorado laboratory staff developed the necessary abilities that complemented pre-existing diagnostic microbiology skills. The appropriate designation of key personnel to participate in this program ensures the ability to provide targeted sample analyses in the event of food outbreaks or other large-scale food emergency events requiring surge capacity testing of implicated food samples. Our reporting of test findings is now refined to meet FDA standards and electronic reporting is available for use as requested. Through cooperative responses to local foodborne outbreaks, we established a well-defined working relationship with the regional FDA laboratory. This relationship results in increased data sharing and more coordinated response to outbreak investigations. The number of staff with proficiency to perform testing for both food and environmental samples continues to expand, with extensive cross-training that includes classic microbiological methods and advanced molecular diagnostic technology. Use of designated protocols provides consistency of analytical findings as demonstrated through the outcomes of both proficiency tests and live assignments undertaken through the program to date. The value created by the Colorado laboratory through the first award interval is the creation of a highly skilled group of key personnel who can respond with a wide variety of defined methods to provide rigorous testing under surveillance, outbreak response, or surge capacity. A continued investment will provide even greater returns during the next award interval.
A national network of food testing laboratories is crucial to maintaining the nation's food safety and security. The collaboration of Federal and State laboratories to develop and sustain this framework is required to ensure the public health and a safe food supply. Through continuation of the FDA FERN Microbiology Cooperative Agreement Program, the improvements to food testing implemented by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment laboratory are aligned with this national goal and can be extended to undertake new initiatives.