The Northeast Food & Feed Laboratory (NFFL) is one of the FDA’s largest regulatory field laboratories. Its staff of scientists is responsible for performing lab analysis of domestic and imported products regulated by the agency. To support this effort, the lab maintains strong programs in regulatory methods development and technical training. The lab is accredited for technical competence in Chemical and Biological testing in accordance with the recognized international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005 General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories.
NFFL is organized into three sections: Chemistry Branch I, Chemistry Branch II, and Microbiological Sciences Branch. The testing performed includes analysis for food additives, colors, elemental analysis (heavy metals), insanitation, decomposition, pesticides, microbial pathogens, bacterial toxin detection, virology, food allergens, whole genome sequencing, sterility, and selected agents.
The lab, located in Queens County, approximately 20 miles east of Manhattan, is well-equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, but ultimately its greatest strength, is its scientists and experts. The chemists, microbiologists, entomologists, biologists, technicians, and support personnel of NFFL are the key to the strength of its programs and assignments that accomplish the consumer protection mission of the agency.
Microbiological Sciences Branch (MSB)
The Microbiological Sciences Branch (MSB) of NFFL is responsible for analyzing imported and domestic finished food and cosmetic products, as well as in-line samples and environmental samples. These analyses are part of a greater effort to remove or prevent adulterated products from reaching consumers and limiting or preventing foodborne outbreaks. MSB tests for several pathogenic and non-pathogenic microorganisms, including but not limited to Salmonella, Listeria, Vibrios, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum, Shigella, enterotoxigenic as well as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, and allergens.
MSB maintains a fully functioning BSL-3 lab. The BSL-3 lab is operated and maintained in accordance with federal law contained in 42 CFR 73.7. It is kept in a state of readiness for handling of samples that are suspected of contamination with highly infectious or toxic agents. In addition, the BSL-3 suite functions as a major national resource for the training of state and federal employees. The BSL-3 lab is registered with CDC to retain select agents and toxins and to conduct testing for these agents.
Chemistry Branch I (CBI)
Chemistry Branch I (CBI) of the NFFL is comprised of two lab units, each containing specialized instrumentation and staff members with diverse analytical capabilities. CBI has a lab unit that analyzes regulatory samples for the presence of unapproved color additives and food additives. One food additive of significant public health concern is sulfites. Sulfites are generally regarded as safe but are a significant health hazard to susceptible populations. Under regulatory guidelines, sulfites are permitted for use in some foods, with certain labeling restrictions. The second lab unit examines samples for the decomposition of seafood, histamine formation in scrombotoxic fish species, and forensic analysis of food and medical products for the presence of insanitation.
Chemistry Branch II (CBII)
Chemistry Branch II (CBII) of the NFFL is also comprised of two lab units that contain specialized instrumentation and analytical capabilities. The pesticides unit covers several food compliance programs as well as special assignments. Currently, this unit routinely analyzes for more than 800 compounds. Expertise is required to accurately identify, quantify, and confirm each one of these compounds. In addition, CBII’s second unit uses state-of-the-art instrumentation for screening and detecting toxic metals in foods, ceramicware, tableware and animal feed.
In addition to its day-to-day regulatory analysis of imported and domestic products, NFFL is also involved with, and has the capability to perform, many other critical functions and capabilities that serve the public health mission, including:
- Critical review of Private Laboratory Reports by a highly skilled and trained staff
- Active participation by professional analysts on the agency’s Foreign Inspectional Cadre
- A Robust internship program
- Microbiological BioClean room staffed with specialized team
- A BSL-3 lab staffed with a dedicated team of analysts