The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) is a contributing partner in the state’s fortified effort to provide safe food to its consumers. The food and agriculture industry, as well as local public health employees, work hand-in-hand with MDARD to collectively ensure the continued confidence of the food supply.
This includes the work of the department’s Laboratory Division, headed by Director Craig VanBuren. The Division consists of two labs, Geagley Laboratory in East Lansing and the E.C. Heffron Metrology Laboratory in Williamston. The division analyzes food, beverage and dairy products for pathogens, toxic substances, drug and pesticide residues, pasteurization, and foreign materials. The labs are able to ascertain if food samples are safe for consumption in just a couple days or even a few hours.
“Our mission is vast and unique,” VanBuren says. “The Laboratory Division helps safeguard consumers every day – whether at the gas pump or by ensuring our food is pathogen free and safe to eat.”
As part of MDARD’s regulatory programs, the division tests for various food and feed pathogens, provides diagnostic testing for animal diseases, ensures the quality and quantity of gas being sold, prevents economic fraud by looking for credit card skimmers, and ensures packages contain the amount of product they claim.
“Our efforts protect public health, preserve the integrity of the food safety net and ensure consumers’ economic well-being is protected,” VanBuren adds.
Also helping make Michigan food safe is the Food and Dairy Division. “Our biggest goal is that whenever you eat food in Michigan, you don’t get sick,” Director Kevin Besey says. “What people should be able to do is buy food and assume it is safe.”
Up to 500 local and state employees across Michigan reduce risks of foodborne illness from “farm-to-fork” and even “farm-to-glass,” when you consider milk and other beverages. This team includes division employees and those of 45 local health departments. Collectively, these officials inspect and establish food safety relationships at 63,000 facilities statewide, whether a dairy farm, milk truck, food processor, grocery store, food warehouse, restaurant or hospital cafeteria.
“With foodborne illness, it’s like any other disease with risk factors,” Besey says. “We do inspections and work with people who make food so that they are handling food correctly and reducing the risk factors that can make you sick.”
Food inspectors license food manufacturers and offer guidance on new building designs and food safety procedures. They visit processing facilities frequently to identify existing or emerging food safety concerns. Employees pull samples of foods, from ground meats to deli salads, to analyze them for contaminants, illegal additives, fat content or pathogens. In the case of a foodborne illness outbreak, the Food and Dairy Division tracks it.
Division employees also visit dairy farms to inspect facilities and holding tanks. Inspectors certify drivers and review the sanitation of milk trucks. They test milk for safety, including pasteurization and traces of antibiotics.
“One of the hallmarks of MDARD’s mission is to ensure the safety of the food supply and protect public health,” VanBuren says. “MDARD’s Lab works in partnership with our Food and Dairy Division to test food samples of products from all over the state. The samples are collected and analyzed. Through that partnership, for example, MDARD detected listeria in hummus, which prompted a nationwide recall.”
Additionally, VanBuren says, the Geagley Lab recently joined the Food and Drug Administration’s GenomeTrakr Network to be able to more rapidly identify foodborne pathogens, allowing for quicker response by food safety officials.