A new testing laboratory is now up and running in Pharr, Texas, that the produce industry hopes will take some of the workload off overburdened government facilities.

Selma, Texas-based IEH-Quanta Lab opened a full-service microbiology and pesticide testing facility Oct. 22, said Jeff Lucas, the firm’s vice president of technical services.

Previously, product samples had to be sent to Houston, California or other locations for testing.

“You never know where they will end up,” Lucas said.

The new lab should help lessen the time suppliers have to wait for results.

“There’s going to be improved turnaround time to those who are not only producing product, but also those that are importing product,” he said.

The lab will have workers available not only to sample detention loads for the Food and Drug Administration, but to pull water samples from clients’ facilities and conduct irrigation, soil and product sampling.

“(Clients) no longer have to take verbal direction from someone and hope that they’re doing it correctly,” he said.

“There will actually be someone on site who can physically pull those samples.”

Although the lab can conduct detention sampling for the FDA, the facility can’t conduct surveillance sampling. That will continue to be done by a government lab.

FDA has not yet released certification requirements for outside labs to conduct surveillance sampling, and Lucas does not know when that will happen.

“All of the provisions of (the Food Safety Modernization Act) are still hung up in the (Office of Management and Budget) at the White House,” he said.

The company hopes to work with the government and secure as much testing work at the laboratory as possible.

The lab is testing papayas, and the government has indicated mangoes and jalapeños may be on detention shortly, so the facility should be able to test those commodities, as well, he said.

IEH-Quanta Lab maintains relationships with brokers so that, when FDA puts product into detention, the import broker notifies the lab to do the sampling and analysis and the loads can be released, he said.

The company also does production sampling with grower-shippers in the Rio Grande Valley.

“As they are further processing product, whether it’s chopped onions, fresh broccoli being bagged or even chopped salad or lettuce, companies contract with us, and we do sampling and analysis on those products as well,” he said.

“Once (the lab) is accredited, the government will accept the findings of that laboratory on bacterial and/or chemical analysis,” said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association.

“That will be a tremendous benefit.”

Ben Brittain, executive vice president and managing partner for Pharr-based Vision Produce Partners of Texas, said the company’s loads at times have been held up for two or three days to check for the presence of an invasive pest and nothing was found.

Having the testing done nearby “would be great,” he said, since delays can ruin a load.

The company exhibited at Fresh Summit 2012 in Anaheim, Calif., and has held luncheons in the valley to help get out the word about the facility, Lucas said.