FDA reports on progress in developing rapid tests of food and feed contamination

FDA has issued a report to Congress on its progress toward developing more rapid, easier, and less costly tests to detect contamination in food and animal feed at U.S. ports of entry.

October 22, 2003

In a step to improve the technologies available to keep the nation’s food supply safe and secure, FDA has sent to Congress a report detailing progress it has made in research to develop rapid tests and sampling methods to improve the agency’s ability to identify contamination of food.

The report, entitled “Testing For Rapid Detection of Adulteration Of Food,” responds to provisions in Section 302(d) of the Bioterrorism Act. That section charged FDA with developing faster methods to detect adulterated foods and animal feed at U.S. ports of entry so as not to delay unduly the flow of food to domestic markets. This is the first annual report to Congress as required under the Bioterrorism Act.

“Improving FDA’s inspection, detection and monitoring capabilities of food imports is a top priority,” said Dr. McClellan. “With our research partners in private industry, other government agencies, academia, trade associations, and others, FDA is conducting a considerable amount of research intended to develop new test methods and innovative test kits. Our goal is to make them faster, more economical, and more accurate, so that we can be better prepared at a lower cost.”

According to the report, FDA currently has over 90 different active research projects involving test and sampling methodology development. This is an FDA-wide effort and involves many FDA scientific experts and partners in academia and consortia to achieve this important and strategic research goal. Some of the research highlights are provided below:

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Developing and validating effectiveness of rapid testing technology and methods for detecting potential biological, chemical and radiological threat agents in foods
Developing and assessing processing technologies and systems that may mitigate or eliminate potential biological and chemical threats to the food supply
Center for Veterinary Medicine

Successfully validated an analytical method using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect bovine-derived materials in animal feeds to ensure compliance with FDA’s regulation designed to protect the U.S. against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease)
Worked to expand the number of species that the current PCR method is capable of detecting from bovine to include other ruminant species.
Office of Regulatory Affairs

Developed an immunoassay method for detection of botulism toxin in food.
Developed a mass spectrometry-based method for detecting a wide variety of chemical toxins in food.
National Center for Toxicological Research

Developed a novel approach to rapidly identify biomarkers of toxicity using a mass spectrometry-based method for detecting microorganisms that could be introduced into otherwise harmless organisms to cause intentional adulteration.
“The one-time allocation of $5 million provided last July by the Office of Management and Budget is allowing FDA to strengthen this research program,” said Dr. McClellan. “Because testing select agents in food represents a new field of scientific inquiry, the research needs are quite substantial and will need to be sustained over several years.”

FDA’s report to Congress is available on the web at