The Selma, Texas-based IEH-Quanta Lab facility in Pharr, Texas, should be ISO 17025-accredited by mid-December, said Jeff Lucas, vice president of technical services.

That accreditation will be an important consideration by the Food and Drug Administration in selecting third-party laboratories, he said.

For customers, it will reduce the chance that results of food safety audits will be called into question, he added.

The company also hopes eventually to be able to expand its programs at the Pharr lab, which now primarily conducts detention inspections on papayas from Mexico.

The facility opened in October 2012 and is awaiting actions by the Food and Drug Administration on the Food Safety Modernization Act and other issues that could affect the facility’s operation, Lucas said.

As it stands, the lab is authorized to conduct detention inspections of papayas but not surveillance inspections.

Detention inspections are conducted when FDA suspects a potential problem with a load or commodity, while a surveillance inspection is a kind of spot check to determine if follow-up inspections are warranted.

While approved outside labs can conduct detention inspections, FDA had not released any information regarding the accreditation of third-party laboratories for surveillance inspections, he said.

When FDA issues a sample request for a given load or a given commodity for surveillance purposes, it often results in a backlog for grower-shippers, who have to wait for the results of the inspection, Lucas said.

“(FDA) screens a certain number of materials every year so they can see what’s going on with those commodities coming in from Mexico,” he said.

“The surveillance work is what takes so long to get results back,” he said.

Lucas said he’s heard reports of grower-shippers having to wait a week for the results.

Ideally, independent labs like IEH-Quanta will be authorized to conduct those tests, Lucas said.

“We have samplers at the border, so we can respond fairly quickly,” he said, resulting in a turnaround time at least 24 hours faster than the current process.

“Not only is it a time issue, but because we’re not shipping samples to labs that are away from the border, we’re able to use the Pharr lab, saving time and shipping costs.”

He said he is not sure if or when FDA will allow third-party firms to conduct surveillance inspections.

“We don’t really know what’s in the pipeline right now,” he said.

“Many of the rules are being held up at (the Office of Management and Budget) for evaluation.”