Fresh produce — and the microbiological testing of it for foodborne pathogens — will be a big focus of a new nutritional chemistry and food safety laboratory Princeton, N.J.-based Covance Inc. plans to open next year in Battle Creek, Mich.

New Covance lab will focus on food safety testing

Courtesy Covance Inc.

The new laboratory Covance Inc. plans to build in Battle Creek, Mich. for microbiological food testing will look much like this Covance lab in Madison, Wis.

Covance, which has concentrated much of its business in the areas of nutritional chemistry and development of pharmaceutical products for years, hopes to ratchet up in another area with a significant expansion in microbiological food safety testing capability with this new lab.

“We’ve always had a very solid food-oriented business,” said James Lovett, corporate senior vice president of Covance. “We want to put a focus on that and accelerate growth in that area.”

Lovett said the new lab in Battle Creek, which Covance hopes to be in by the end of 2010, joins the company’s other food safety testing labs in Madison, Wis.; Greenfield, Ind.; and Singapore.

“Battle Creek will be unique in that it’s our first foray into routine microbiological testing,” said Lovett, who specified that the lab will test all varieties for produce for common bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli as well as others. “We have the expertise to do that, and Battle Creek is the first step into that area.”

Another significant development with the new lab is that it will be directly affiliated with the National Center for Food Protection, a global food protection resource development and collaboration network in Battle Creek.

“We’ll be working together on accelerating technologies in food safety,” Lovett said. “They wanted us to be a partner in that as far as their public health initiatives and policies.”

Covance plans on investing about $14 million to acquire and renovate a 30,000-square-foot building in Battle Creek. The company anticipates receiving about $4.3 million in financial incentives from the city and state of Michigan. Lovett said he expects about 40 jobs to be created.

In addition, Covance entered into a seven-year, $42 million strategic services deal with the Battle Creek-based Kellogg Company to consolidate much of the food company’s analytical chemistry, microbiology and stability testing with Covance. Kellogg’s will be an anchor client in the new building.

“I think food safety in this country is a lot better than people think. There aren’t a lot of people getting sick,” Lovett said. “But, it’s not as good as it could be.”

Lovett said this new lab and partnerships enable Covance to enhance food safety procedures and make eating fresh produce even more safe.