Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services


The Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) is a national network co-directed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The purpose of the FERN is to create a network of local, state, and federal food-testing laboratories to provide testing support to the FDA and USDA in emergencies that could involve biological, chemical, or radiological contamination of our nation's food supply. The FERN support DCLS provides to local and state laboratories can include:

  • Training of laboratory staff on new methods, technologies, and instrumentation
  • Purchasing additional instrumentation for the laboratories
  • Providing a stock of reagents, supplies, and materials available for laboratories if needed for emergency response testing situations
  • Providing support for expanding the types of methods available for food testing and validating the use of the new methods on new food types (There are a lot of food types!)
  • Providing drills, exercises, and proficiency testing to assure that all laboratories in the network maintain a ready-state of preparedness to respond to emergency testing needs
  • Performing surveillance or monitoring activities to learn what is "normally" found or present in our food supply

DCLS has been a member of the FERN since it began in 2004 and has the capability and capacity to provide testing to identify biological, chemical, and radiological contaminants that could threaten the Commonwealth's and the nation's food supply.

A few examples of when the FERN has been activated and FERN member laboratories have provided assistance with method technical expertise and results/information sharing include:

  • E. coli O157:H7 in spinach, 2006
  • Salmonella in peppers, 2008
  • Melamine in pet food and infant formula, 2007-2009
  • Salmonella in peanut butter, 2009
  • Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010
  • Radiological crisis in Japan, 2011
  • National political conventions, 2012
  • Presidential inauguration, 2013

DCLS also participates in FERN by serving as one of only two USDA FERN National Training Centers. The FERN Training Centers offer hands-on laboratory and lecture courses to FERN laboratorians from all over the country to educate staff on the latest FERN-, USDA-, and FDA-approved food testing methods for screening and confirming for the presence of biological, chemical, and radiological agents in food products. Building a network of laboratories able to test food for pathogens, toxins, and chemicals is critical in the event of widespread food emergency. DCLS offers FERN laboratory trainees an opportunity to learn in our state-of-the-art laboratory training facility, which includes almost 2,000 square feet of wet laboratory space uniquely equipped with two high containment biosafety level three (BSL-3) laboratories that allow for the testing of some of our most dangerous pathogens like Brucella sp. and Francisella tularensis.

For more information on FERN and National activities focused on food safety and food protection, please visit the following links: