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New initiative aims at safer food imports -- at the source, not our border

COLLEGE PARK, Md. A new public-private initiative will advance the U.S. strategy of defending against contaminated food imports at the source, rather than the border.

The University of Maryland and the Waters Corporation (NYSE: WAT) will build and operate the first U.S.-based laboratory for training foreign food producers an important step to increase the foreign scientific capacity needed to uncover contamination before commodities ship. At the new facility, they'll be taught U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved microbiological and chemical analytical procedures.

"Inspection at the border is not an option," says Jianghong Meng, who directs the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), the University of Maryland-FDA center that will operate the lab and conduct the training.

"We import so much food from other countries that the FDA can only inspect about one percent of it," Meng explains. "The answer is to control contamination at the source."

The new facility the International Food Safety Training Laboratory (IFSTL) will teach an estimated 200 foreign food and government workers per year. It will be based in College Park at the University of Maryland, and is expected to open in July 2011.

With an investment valued at more than $4 million, the Waters Corporation will build and equip the facility and assist in designing the program. Waters is a major manufacturer of laboratory equipment used to detect and measure the presence of chemical contaminants in food. Its investment is an essential driving force in the project.

JIFSAN will be responsible for curriculum and training at IFSTL, and operate the lab as a self-supporting facility.


Imports represent about 15 percent of the total U.S. food supply. But, Meng notes that the figure is much higher in the case of certain commodities. For example, over 80 percent of shrimp sold in the United States is imported. More than one-third of fresh produce is imported, mainly from Latin America.

As an example of the risks of food contamination, Meng points to a 2008 outbreak of salmonella that sickened more than 1,400 people, traced back to conditions at a Mexican pepper farm. Another is the 2008 scandal involving Chinese milk and infant formula, which had been adulterated with melamine. Several babies died and 300,000 people in China got sick.


"This initiative stresses a hands-on approach to building scientific capacity," says Paul Mazzocchi, JIFSAN's associate director. "Trainees will be put through intensive programs practicing FDA-recommended protocols and operating actual lab equipment. It's a unique and cost-effective way to build foreign capacity quickly."

The demand for expertise especially the hands-on variety far outstrips current technical capacity in many countries, driven in part by U.S. importers and retailers seeking safety assurances. IFSTL is a response to this growing need for training, "the capstone of JIFSAN's international food safety training programs," as Mazzocchi puts it.

"The University of Maryland is very excited about this innovative partnership through the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition," says President C. D. Mote, Jr. "This collaboration is a superb example of how the public and private sectors can maximize their impact by combining their strengths. The new programs have excellent potential for improving food safety internationally."

"Waters Corporation is committed to bridging the gap between governments and industry to ensure the best science and most innovative technologies are used to make our food safe," says Waters Corporation Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Douglas A. Berthiaume. "We are proud to join with the University of Maryland to create this laboratory that will bolster the capabilities of both the FDA and our global partners as we work together to improve food safety."


IFSTL will be located in the Patapsco Building in M-Square, the University of Maryland research park adjacent to the campus and next door to the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Together with another neighbor - the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)- JIFSAN and the FDA facility represent a growing cluster of M-Square research dedicated to food safety.

"This new initiative further enhances Maryland's global leadership and helps to secure the safety of imported food products," says Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson.

"This project exemplifies the impact of our international technology transfer mission," says Brian Darmody, associate vice president for research and economic development at the University of Maryland. "Exporting lab-based food safety expertise to other parts of the world will help protect the health of U.S. citizens, as well as people in other countries. Moreover, bringing hundreds of trainees to Maryland helps support our regional economy."


Contact: Neil Tickner
University of Maryland

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