Hanover lab holds the line between you and bacteria Content, shelf-life, safety are determined

November 11, 1993|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

Ever wandered through a supermarket, picked up an item and wondered who helped determine the use-by date stamped on the product? Or who helped fill in the nutritional information on the label?

Or who tests for bacteria, yeast, mold, toxins and pesticide residues on foods?

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic states, chances are you should be thinking of Strasburger & Siegel Inc., a Hanover-based lab specializing in food science.

"We are the last bastion standing between you and millions of swarming bacteria trying to invade you," said Alan D. Parker, director of consulting services and one of three longtime former employees who bought Strasburger & Siegel three years ago.

To determine the shelf-life of a product, the lab accelerates the product's aging process by storing it in an environmental chamber and regulating such variables as light, temperature and humidity.

The goal is to ensure that nutrients remain intact and to guarantee the food's "freedom from any kind of chemical or microbiological contaminant on the day its made and last day of its shelf life," he said.

Mr. Parker and his partners, Eugene N. Gogel and Supat Sirivicha, became the owners of Strasburger & Siegel after company founder LeRoy Strasburger retired.

Maurice Siegel, the other founder, died 17 years ago.

Mr. Strasburger "helped us with favorable terms, so we were able to purchase the company" over a period of five years, said Mr. Parker, who declined to reveal how much they paid.

However, he did say the 67-year-old company has experienced 20 percent growth annually since they purchased it in 1990.

Once the men took over Strasburger & Siegel, they made new investments in the company, Mr. Gogel, director of administration and marketing, said. They bought new equipment, installed a computerized record-keeping system and placed increased emphasis on repeat business.

The company just finished moving into new quarters at the Parkway Center I on Dorsey Road. Before the move, employees had been forced to lug materials and heavy equipment up and down a three-story building on Eutaw Place in downtown Baltimore.

While Strasburger & Siegel does some work for state agencies, the bulk of the company's clients are private-sector firms in the Mid-Atlantic area.

The lab performs a wide range of services for its clients, from chemical tests for the fat and fiber content of food to testing hot peppers for their flavor through taste tests, or by injecting them into a special machine.

"The two methods correlate very well if the people doing the taste test are well-trained," said Mr. Parker, who said an understanding of culinary arts often overlaps with food science.

They also test the physical characteristics of food items, such as the particle size of flour and garlic salt.

In addition, the company tests foods for microorganisms such as salmonella, campylobacter and listeria.

Last year, Strasburger & Siegel did all the testing on crabs for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Maryland crab lovers will be glad to know that Chesapeake Bay crabs were fine.

Depending upon what a client wants, the time it takes Strasburger & Siegel to compete various tests could run from a few days to several years.

As many as 15 tests, over a period of 10 days, might be needed to develop a typical nutritional panel.

The cost for that work, Mr. Parker said, is $565.

"There's no magic to what we do," he said. "It's all detective work."

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