Massaging tomatoes for science and food safety

Food Emergency Response Network lab trains public health staff and tests for food contaminants

By Lisa Dayne and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

March 02, 2011

Cutting-edge research and discoveries take place in laboratories throughout UMass Medical School. But you might not know that, at some sites, tomatoes are massaged in the name of science and food safety. You would if you’d been to the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) labs at the UMMS Jamaica Plain campus. 

FERN is a nationwide network of more than 165 laboratories that was established in 2004 to develop methods for identifying chemical, biological and radiological contaminants in food. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FERN labs identify food contaminants that may have been introduced naturally, accidentally or intentionally as bioterrorism agents, such as Bacillus anthracis or Yersinia pestis, which cause anthrax and plague, respectively. 

The Center for Health Policy and Research, which is part of the Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, collaborates with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at the Northeast Regional FERN lab in Jamaica Plain. One of six national FERN training centers that provide need-based training to staff of other network public health and agriculture laboratories, this lab regularly provides network scientists with training and technical instruction in food emergency responses. Quarterly training is also provided to the National Guard’s Civil Support Teams to outline necessary procedures for food collection during a terrorist event. 

This video highlights what took place during a recent civil support team training session.