CALDWELL, Idaho — A University of Idaho Food Technology Center laboratory plays an important role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical registration process.
The lab duplicates commercial processing of commodities and sends samples to another lab, which evaluates them for the presence of chemicals such pesticides and fungicides. EPA maintains testing guidelines as part of its chemical registration process.
For example, the agency wants to know if chemical residues remain or are concentrated in commodities when they are processed.
“We are running a small pilot plant to simulate those commercial processing methods,” Joshua Bevan, director of the center in Caldwell, said. “We are one component helping to ensure a safe food supply.”
For example, the lab on Aug. 2 received a shipment of potatoes from the Midwest. Staff put the spuds through processes ranging from washing, blanching and different kinds of peeling to cutting, pre-cooking, cooking and dehydrating.
“We process everything from potatoes, tomatoes and grapes to apples, coffee and hops, among other things,” Bevan said. “I like to say we indirectly support the agriculture industry in Idaho by providing this service.”
The lab is paid by project sponsors that want to show adherence to good laboratory practices throughout a product’s evaluation phase.
This year has been an especially busy one for the lab.
“We have a ton of work this year,” said Bevan. “Commodities are coming from all over the U.S.”
He said annual revenues can vary widely at the lab, which has been in operation for about 12 years. It wasn’t especially busy last year, but the lab had a notably big year in 2015.
Commodity pricing, company mergers and characteristics of individual projects figure into year-to-year fluctuations, Bevan said.
Lab revenues significantly support a commercial kitchen UI Food Tech operates.
“By providing service work in the pilot plant, it allows us to subsidize rates in the commercial kitchen to support the growth of small food businesses in Idaho,” Bevan said.