Albany, NY - February 24, 2017 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the New York State Food Laboratory has increased testing of food and beverage samples for health hazards, purity and accuracy of labeling by 10 percent – up from 61,000 tests in 2015 to 67,000 in 2016. Advanced food testing conducted at the cutting-edge laboratory resulted in more than 300 product recalls and several high-profile food investigations, which led to the removal of contaminated products from shelves across New York.
"As one of the most sophisticated food laboratories in the nation, New York's food testing capabilities help reduce the potential for foodborne illness, ensure food labels deliver what they promise, and make sure the rights of customers are put first," Governor Cuomo said. "New York is a leader in pioneering high-tech food testing, and with this state-of-the-art laboratory, we will continue to improve product safety for the health and betterment of all New Yorkers."
Accuracy in Labeling
New York State Grown & Certified is the first statewide, multi-faceted food certification program designed to assist New York farmers. The program allows farmers to take advantage of the growing demand for locally grown and produced foods, and raises these products to a higher standard by addressing food product labeling. As part of the Grown & Certified program, the Laboratory has focused its attention on testing products for accuracy in labeling.
Testing protects against economic fraud and ensures contaminated foods are removed from commerce. For the first time ever, in 2016, the New York State Food Laboratory implemented a DNA-based method to test fish for speciation. Other examples of labeling testing conducted by the Food Laboratory include:
- Olive oil testing to ensure that other, less expensive oils have not been added
- Low-fat product testing to ensure that products meet the standard for low-fat
- Pet food testing to ensure that label claims, such as “8% protein,” are correct
Increased Testing of Imported Foods
Last year, scientists at the Food Laboratory also increased testing of imported foods, such as cheese and spices. This research was initiated and conducted as an additional effort to reduce the number of contaminated products in the marketplace. The Food Laboratory processed 1,073 imported food samples in 2016 – a 28 percent increase from 2015.
The New York State Food Laboratory was one of the first laboratories in the country to test spices for improper use of materials that may have serious health consequences. In 2016, hundreds of spice samples were tested to identify unlabeled fillers, industrial dyes not approved for food products, and harmful contaminants such as lead.
Additionally, in 2016, the Department of Agriculture and Market’s Divisions of Food Safety and Inspection, and Milk Control and Dairy Services collected over 23,300 food, beverage and milk samples, an increase of 17 percent from last year. The majority of samples collected are part of routine public health surveillance programs, but many are in response to foodborne illness and outbreak investigations, consumer inquiries, and a variety of other food-related investigations.
The Food Laboratory is accredited to several internationally recognized quality system standards. Staff conduct innovative and analytical testing in support of food safety and bio-security programs, and consumer and agricultural interests in New York. The Food Laboratory recently began using whole genome sequencing, which dramatically increases the ability to characterize foodborne pathogens. This allows staff to accurately identify the sources of contaminated foods, and assist in the reduction of foodborne illnesses across the State. The Food Laboratory is also a member of the national Food Emergency Response Network, and participates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PulseNet network on public health surveillance and foodborne illness outbreak investigations.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said, "Through the work of the staff at the New York State Food Laboratory, New York State is engaged in cutting-edge analysis that is not only helping to ensure the safety and quality of our food supply but also to advocate for more accurate and faster detection methodologies. I’m proud to say that this year, not only did our Department field staff collect more samples, but our scientists and staff at the Laboratory also conducted more testing on food products received. Their level of technical expertise is respected across the country and is proving New York is a leader in food safety testing."
Association of Public Health Laboratories Food Safety Program Director Sharon Shea said, "APHL is enriched by having the New York State Agriculture and Markets Food Laboratory as a leading associate institutional member. Both the cutting-edge facility and the excellent scientists represent the gold-standard in testing for microbiological and chemical contaminants. We are proud of the work they are doing to keep food safe for New Yorkers and everyone across the country."
Association of Food and Drugs Officials Executive Director Joe Corby said, "This country could never develop an integrated food safety system without the active participation of our public health and food testing laboratories. AFDO is especially impressed with the contributions of officials from New York Agriculture and Markets’ Food Lab who have volunteered their time on committees, workgroups, and other formalized efforts designed to help assure a safer food supply for all."
USDA Pesticide Data Program Sampling Manager Chris Papas said, "For 25 years, the New York Department of Agriculture and the Markets Food Laboratory Division has been a valued partner in the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, providing reliable data to help assure consumers that the food they feed themselves and their families is safe."
US Food and Drug Administration Office of Regulatory Affairs Laboratory Accreditation Program Lead and Erin Woodom-Coleman Project Officer Ruiqing Pamboukian said, "The New York Department of Agriculture and the Markets Food Laboratory Division has been a valued partner. As a mentor lab, they spent significant efforts helping their three mentee labs to achieve accreditation. Two of the mentee labs successfully achieved accreditation in 2016, while the third lab has scheduled on-site assessment recently. They are active participants and often serve as session speakers in our laboratory accreditation meetings. Their laboratory best practices have been valued and shared with other laboratories in our group."
About the New York State Food Laboratory
The New York State Food Laboratory relocated to a newly constructed building in 2013. The 67,000 square foot facility is home to 43 microbiologists and chemists and support staff.
The Food Laboratory regularly collaborates with the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Liquor Authority. The New York State Food Laboratory is also contracted to provide specialized analytical services to universities and other state and federal agencies. The Food Laboratory also helped develop an integrated Rapid Response Team (RRT) involving several state and federal partners that enables the Department to respond to any and all emergencies involving food in our State.
Additionally, the Food Laboratory has a cooperative agreement with USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to test produce and dairy products for pesticide residues in support of the USDA Pesticide Data Program. As a recipient of FDA grants, the Food Laboratory also monitors hazards in animal feed and pet food.