Apr 23, 2004 (CIDRAP News) The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday announced the opening of a new high-security food safety laboratory in Athens, Ga.
The $1.65 million lab is designated as biosafety level 3 (BSL-3), the second highest of four biological security ratings, the USDA said in a news release. It will be operated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
"FSIS has been testing for a variety of threat agents as part of its extensive microbiological sampling program to combat foodborne illness," Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano said in the news release. "This facility creates the capacity to test for additional substances and to test in higher volumes when necessary."
BSL-3 laboratories work with pathogens that could pose a threat to human health or agricultural production, the USDA said. Workers in such facilities have special training in handling pathogens and toxins and are supervised by scientists experienced in working with such agents. Access to BSL-3 labs is restricted, and infectious materials must be handled in sealed containers or biosafety cabinets.
Funds for the new lab were provided under the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, the USDA said.
The FSIS has four other labs besides the new one in Athens, the agency said. Three of thesein Alameda, Calif., Athens, and St. Louisdo continuous regulatory testing of meat, poultry, and egg products. Another lab in Athens does tests related to foodborne illness outbreaks and handles special projects. About 200 microbiologists, chemists, and veterinary pathologists work at the four older labs, the USDA said.