Dan Madgwick of Manhattan will soon be moving his family to Marion and opening a food forensics lab.
“It’s basically CSI for food,” Madgwick said.
When food contamination is discovered, manufacturers, restaurants, or insurers can send the contaminated food to a lab like Madgwick’s to determine what the contamination is and how it likely got there.
Madgwick primarily uses microscope analysis. It is the quickest and most cost-effective way to identify contaminants in food, using technology that has been refined for at least 500 years, he said.
Other tools Madgwick will use include infrared analysis, which can provide a “molecular fingerprint,” and a scanning electron microscope that can combine with other technology to determine elemental composition of a sample.
In addition to studying food contamination, Madgwick’s lab will also be equipped to test food for allergens and ingredients some people are sensitive to. For example, he could test a sample of a new product seeking to be certified as gluten-free, determining if it meets standards for that label.
Madgwick is starting his sixth year in the field of food forensics. Before that, he worked in biomedical research, studying protein interactions in the lens of the eye. He plans for CiboTech, the lab he is starting, to operate independently, working on a case-by-case basis. He isn’t interested in long-term contracts with food companies, because they can create conflicts of interest.
He chose to go into business for himself because the company he has been working for in Manhattan is moving in a direction he isn’t interested in, toward cosmetics testing.
He and his wife, Sarah, wanted to move to a small town. He had been through Marion a couple of times in the past, and when he took time to meet people in town, he found them very welcoming.
“We just fell in love with it,” Madgwick said.
CiboTech will be in the building St. Luke Auxiliary Shop is moving out of, and the Madgwicks will live above the lab. He said they have already started renovations upstairs.
The auxiliary shop made room last week for Madgwick to begin setting up the “clean room” where microscope analysis will be done to avoid airborne contaminants. The shop will close after business Sept. 7 to prepare for its move to the former Duckwall store. Madgwick plans for the lab to be operational Oct. 1.
The lab will employ two people to begin with — Madgwick and an office administrator. Madgwick hopes to add two full-time positions within three years if the business grows as quickly as he projects.
He also hopes to add side businesses that may be more or less related to the lab. Closely related to the lab’s purpose could be a beverage testing lab, helping companies with research and development and quality assurance.
Less closely related is Madgwick’s idea to add a craft brewery, adding a storefront to a downtown business that otherwise will mostly do business with distant companies.
He also hopes to provide microscope workshops, either independently or in partnership with schools, to help students develop science skills.
The Madgwicks have four children: Phinneas, 7; Georgia, 6; Clementine, 2; and Beatrix, 1.