A fortified pest identification laboratory should help improve delivery of produce and perishables imports at Port Everglades, a leading Florida port.

On Oct. 1, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., port celebrated the grand opening of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service pest interception lab.

Port Everglades, which serves as one of south Florida’s hubs for imported produce, handles a wide variety of produce from South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

USDA upgrades Port Everglades pest identification lab

Courtresy Port Everglades

USDA officials say the laboratory will serve as a model for improvements to other inspection sites across the U.S.

The $200,000 facility, located inside the port, has 900 square feet of work space, which is six times larger than the older lab and consolidates USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine’s pest identification equipment and large insect collection into one location, officials said.

USDA officials say the laboratory will serve as a model for improvements to other inspection sites across the U.S., including the Port of Miami where the USDA has been building a facility it expects to open in March.

The Port Everglades facility is considered the newest and having the biggest capacity for its size, they say.

Carlos Buqueras, director of business development for Port Everglades, said the federal government has recognized port’s importance in the handling and importation of fruits and vegetables that are shipped from the port to customers throughout the U.S.

“The location of the facility further accelerates and facilitates identification of any pest or bug that needs to be identified prior to the container being released into the market,” he said. “The ability of the lab to turn around identification, positive or negative, then moving to fumigation, is crucial to the port being an attractive handling facility of produce.

“Any delays in identification in fresh produce would be throwing money into the window if you can’t get to the supermarket or sales point as soon as possible.”

Features of the upgraded lab include digital imaging equipment for enhanced pest identification between USDA labs, running water and a deep freezer for pest storage, a separate insect specimen room and multiple computer network connections for visiting scientists and researchers.

Will James, USDA’s area director for APHIS and PPQ, said the older pest lab didn’t have running water and lacked enough room for scientists to continue examining insects without having to store the project at the end of the day.

He said the enlarged space should help improve efficiencies.

“The primary benefit for the importers is that there will be times when their cargo will be released more quickly than it was in the past because the laboratory will be more efficient now,” James said. “It won’t necessarily be a regular occurrence, but the likelihood is that it will be quite a bit more efficient.”

Buqueras said the lab’s expansion is reflective of the growth the port has seen in handling additional perishable products that requires expedited delivery to stores.

Another recent improvement involved the December installation of a tarpless fumigation system. The more precise fumigation method doesn’t change the container’s temperature and helps prolong produce shelf life, Buqueras said.