The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has established a new division that will play a major role in developing the Food Emergency Response Network, an integrated network of laboratories across the U.S. that can quickly respond to food-related emergencies.

FSIS said its new division will work with the Department of
Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration to expand and manage an existing group of more than 90 federal, state, and local laboratories with the capability to detect and identify biological, chemical and radiological agents in food.

"Developing a network of laboratories that can communicate effectively and work together applying consistent laboratory practices will increase our ability to prevent and respond to possible attacks or emergencies involving food," said Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety Merle Pierson in the release. "FERN not only allows us to strengthen our national laboratory system, it also improves cooperation and communication between public health officials at the national, state and local levels," Pierson said.

The FERN Division is being established under the FSIS Office of Public Health Science, which provides scientific analysis, advice, data and recommendations regarding matters involving public health and science that are of concern to FSIS. The division will be co-located with the FSIS Eastern Laboratory in Athens, Ga.

Personnel at participating FERN laboratories analyze surveillance samples, validate new methods used to detect threat agents in food products and meet a list of guidelines to ensure the security and safety of their facilities and employees. The FERN Division will coordinate many of these activities as well as recruit new public laboratories to participate in the network.

Source: USDA Release