State to build $40 million food safety lab at Harriman campus

The state of New York will build a new, $40 million, three-story, 70,000-square-foot food laboratory

The state of New York will build a new, $40 million, three-story, 70,000-square-foot food laboratory at the Harriman Research and Technology Campus in Albany, officials said Friday.

The facility will be staffed by 49 existing state employees, which include 44 chemists, microbiologists and metrologists.

Gov. David Paterson said the facility will be efficient, environmentally friendly and enhance the state’s existing food safety programs.

“New York is a leader in food safety,” Paterson said in the announcement. “No other state in the nation has the myriad of food on store shelves, and we take the responsibility of safeguarding our residents and visitors from possible food-related illness very seriously.”

Sustainability and energy efficiency will be a major factor influencing every decision regarding how the lab is constructed and operated, according to government officials.

The new lab will be only 100 yards away from the existing lab.

The state Food Laboratory provides expert analytical testing for all food safety and security programs in the state, specializing in food chemistry, food microbiology, and pesticide and chemical residue testing.

State-of-the-art testing, instrumentation, and biological and chemical containment systems will be installed in the new lab, adding the capability of testing food, beverages and animal feed for select agents through biosafety and chemical terrorism laboratory programs, which are lacking in the current facility, according to Dan Rice, director of the laboratory.

New York’s food lab is an integral part of a nationwide network of laboratories that respond to food emergencies, called the Food Emergency Response Network.

The food lab also works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to detect pathogens in fresh food, fruit, vegetables and drinking water.

Last year, about 140,000 analyses on more than 19,000 samples of food, beverage, animal feed, fertilizer and lime were performed at the state lab. The work led to 317 food recalls in 2008 because of chemical, heavy metal and bacterial contaminations, as well as undeclared allergens and ingredients.

The state’s metrology laboratory will also be housed in the new lab. The metrology lab certifies the standards used to verify the accuracy of all grocery store scales, gas pumps, fuel meters, and a host of other devices used in commerce, according to the state.

John Egan, commissioner of the Office of General Services and chairman of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation, said the construction of the facility will usher in a new era for the Harriman Campus, calling it “the first step in Governor Paterson’s renewal of [a] valuable research campus.”

It’s been 12 years since there has been any major construction for the Harriman campus, according to Brad Maione, spokesman for office of General Services, referring to the forensic facility built for state police.

“Those buildings date back to the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Maione said. “This is a significant development for the Harriman campus.”

Earlier this decade, the state planned to phase out much of its operations at the campus and make most of the site available for private sector development. That still remains a goal, but until it happens, the state is moving ahead with some redevelopment of its own.

Maione said this decision to expand public-sector operations at the campus reflects the rapidly changing marketplace that has curbed private-sector investment since the recession.

“Businesses are scaling back and retrenching and layoffs are the key word,” Maione said.

Although a few development proposals were submitted to the Office of General Services and considered, Maione said the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation, which oversees the campus, “in consultation with the governor’s office deemed moving forward on that was not the proper course of action at this time,” he said.

Details concerning the submitted proposals were not available.

“They remain on the table,” Maione said. “At this point, the focus is going to be high technology, development and adaptive reuse and sustainability at the campus.”

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