Safer food imports goal of public-private venture
University, Mass. company to launch training center for foreign producers
The University of Maryland's M Square research park in College Park may soon become a crucial hub for ensuring global food safety.
The university has struck a partnership with Waters Corp. of Milford, Mass., to build and operate the first U.S. laboratory for training foreign food producers that also export to the U.S. The 5,000-square-foot International Food Safety Training Laboratory, which is expected to open in July 2011, will be in M Square's Patapsco Building, according to university information.
About 200 foreign scientists will be taught there annually by members of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, a collaborative program between the university and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The lab will have a staff of five full-time workers.
Waters Corp., which develops scientific strategies for regulatory compliance, is investing $4 million in technology and curriculum design for the laboratory. The company has 5,000 employees and posts $1.5 billion in annual sales.
"The goal is to improve food safety for customers in the U.S. and, in turn, domestically for the producers' countries," said Paul Mazzocchi, the program's associate director. He said the training, which will be developed in conjunction with Waters, will be based on the training given at the FDA.
With imports accounting for 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, the nation needs a better way of ensuring food safety than border inspections, Mazzocchi said.
"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," he said in a statement.
Instead, this private-public partnership will train foreign food producers to perform their own analyses according to FDA regulations, he said.
"We need to build scientific capacity for food safety," said Jeffrey Tarmy, a Waters spokesman.
"The FDA couldn't make this deal because of governmental restrictions and regulations," Mazzocchi said. The joint university-FDA program "can deal with things the government can't."
While the training center will not have the same economic impact as a business incubator, scientists attending the two-week training sessions will still stimulate local businesses such as hotels, retail shops and restaurants, he said.
"This collaboration is a superb example of how the public and private sectors can maximize their impact by combining their strengths," university President C.D. Mote Jr. said in a statement. "The new programs have excellent potential for improving food safety internationally."
The lab adds to M Square's growing cluster of research dedicated to food safety, joining the neighboring Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. M Square, comprising 2 million square feet, is adjacent to the university campus and next to the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
"This project exemplifies the impact of our international technology transfer mission," Brian Darmody, associate vice president for research and economic development at the university, said in a statement.