USDA research on postharvest biology and technology of horticultural crops began in 1906, based on data collected by C.W. Mann and H.J. Ramsey, staff members of the Field Investigations in Pomology unit of the Bureau of Plant Industry, in Washington, DC. A.V. Subernrauch was the Expert in Charge of the Field Investigations in Pomology unit which was responsible for production, plant breeding, and postharvest research.
In 1928, the Handling, Transportation, and Storage Section (HTSS) was formed at the Bureau of Plant Industry under the direction of Lon A. Hawkins to handle all postharvest research throughout the United States of America. The headquarters office was located in Washington, DC and the cold storage facility was built at the Arlington Farm.
In 1934, Durward F. Fisher was placed in charge of HTSS after the departure of Lon Hawkins. In August 1938, construction of Building 002 at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC-West) was started to become the new home of HTSS, as well as for a few fruit and vegetable production staff, because the land comprising the Arlington Farm was taken over by the War Department to build the Pentagon. Before choosing the present sight at Beltsville, there was serious consideration given to moving the Research Center to a sight near Frederick, MD, but Congress wanted to have the research resource near enough to allow them easy access from Capitol Hill. Construction of Building 002 was completed in late 1939. The building had 22 constant temperature cold storage rooms, a large machine room to run refrigeration equipment, a produce handling room, offices and laboratories. William Pentzer was transferred from Fresno, CA to direct the efforts of HTSS in 1949 when Durward Fisher passed away.
A reorganization in 1957 eliminated the Handling, Transportation, and Storage Section and placed the postharvest research staff into three sections: Quality Maintenance Investigations; Quality Evaluation Investigations; and Instrumentation Laboratory. All laboratories were located in Building 002, but were under administrative leadership of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rather than the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
Another reorganization in 1960 returned postharvest research back to ARS in the newly formed Horticultural Crops Research Branch (HCRB) and Market Quality Research Division (MQRD). Lloyd Ryall was transferred from Fresno, CA to head the HCRB and William Pentzer became the director of MQRD. The Quality Maintenance Investigations Lab Chief was Pete Heinze, the Quality Evaluation Investigations Lab Chief was John Yeatman, and the Instrumentation Laboratory Lab Chief was Karl Norris. The administrative staff moved from Building 002 to the Federal Center Building in Hyattsville, MD but the research staff remained at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Building 002. With the retirement of Lloyd Ryall in 1968, Pete Heinze became the Branch Chief of HCRB and Robert Hardenburg became the Quality Maintenance Investigations Lab Chief. Thus, the Quality Maintenance Investigations Laboratory, Quality Evaluation Investigations Laboratory and the Instrumentation Laboratory were the only tenants remaining in Building 002.
A 1972 reorganization dissolved the ARS's Division/Branch structure and formed the Region/Area structure. In the Beltsville Area, the Quality Maintenance Investigations Laboratory and Quality Evaluation Investigations Laboratory were merged and given the name of Horticultural Crops Marketing Laboratory (HCML) with Bob Hardenburg as the Lab Chief. Also at that time, the Food Technology Group, led by Alley Watada who had joined the HCML to replace John Yeatman as the leader of that group, was dissolved and the staff incorporated into the HCML. The reorganization also proposed a Postharvest Plant Pathology Laboratory, but this never materialized and the small group of Plant Pathologists were incorporated into the HCQL. The Instrumentation Laboratory became the Instrumentation Research Laboratory (IRL) with Karl Norris remaining as the Lab Chief.
The Postharvest Physiology Laboratory was also created by the 1972 reorganization with Dr. Morris Lieberman as the Lab Chief from part of the old branch and was also housed in Building 002. This unit merged with the Plant Hormone Lab with Morris Lieberman as the Research Leader and moved to Building 050 in 1983. These and other units became part of the newly formed Agricultural Marketing Research Institute with Essex E. Finney as the Director, who later in the early 1990's went on to become the Administrator of the ARS. Al Piringer, who had been Associate Area Director of the Chesapeake & Potomac Area of ARS, took over as Institute Director in 1980. About 3 years later, the name of the Institute was changed to the Horticultural Sciences Institute, and the name of the Horticultural Crops Marketing Laboratory was changed to the Horticultural Crops Quality Laboratory (HCQL). The Horticultural Science Institute was comprised of the Postharvest, Instrumentation, Fruit, Vegetable, Floral and Nursery Crops, and Horticultural Crops Quality Laboratories.
Alley E. Watada became the Lab Chief in 1981 with the retirement of Bob Hardenburg. Al Piringer retired in 1986 and Mike Faust took over as Institute Director until 1988 when the Institute name was changed to the Product Quality and Development Institute under the leadership of Don Bills, who joined BARC from the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, PA.
HCQL became the only tenants of Building 002 when the Instrumentation Research Lab moved out in early 1990 to a renovated Building 303, BARC-East. The three remaining staff of the Plant Hormone Laboratory merged with HCQL in October 1991. In 1993, the first floor of Building 002 was partially renovated to accommodate their laboratory needs.
In 1995, the Product Quality and Development Institute was dissolved and the five constituent laboratories were distributed among the remaining four Institutes. HCQL was transferred into the Plant Sciences Institute led by Barbara Leonhardt and Ron Korcak. In January of 1996, Alley Watada stepped down as Research Leader to return to the bench and to pursue his interests in helping as technical contact to the rapidly growing fresh-cut produce industry. Ken Gross, who joined HCQL as a Plant Physiologist in September 1981, became the HCQL Research Leader in June 1996.
In 1999, the Laboratory received a permanent increase in funding to intensify our microbial food safety program. With these new funds, a Microbiologist, Plant Pathologist , and Food Technologist were hired to develop new projects in this area. Dr. Arvind Bhagwat, Microbiologist, joined the Laboratory in July 1999. His research involves molecular genetic approaches for rapid diagnostics and survival of human pathogenic bacteria on fruits and vegetables. Dr. Jim McEvoy, Plant Pathologist, was hired in August 1999. His research program involves microbial food safety, looking at the interaction between plants, beneficial microorganisms and human pathogen survival. Dr. Yaguang Luo, Food Technologist, joined the Laboratory in February 2001. Her research program focuses on postharvest technology to maintain quality and safety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. In 2000, Dr. David Smith was hired as a Plant Physiologist to work on molecular-genetic approaches to maintain postharvest quality and increase shelf-life of fresh fruits and vegetables.
As part of a reorganization of the Beltsville Area Research Center to better reflect our research mission, HCQL was renamed the Produce Quality and Safety Laboratory, PQSL.
Dr. Wanda Collins became the Plant Sciences Institute Director in October of 2001. In February of 2007, Ken Gross retired and in April of that same year, Bill Conway became the Research Leader. Following a re-organization in 2008, the Produce Quality and Safety laboratory was renamed the Food Quality Laboratory (FQL). Drs. Arvind Bhagwat and Yaguang Luo were transferred to the newly formed Environmental Microbial and Safety Laboratory in the Animal and Natural Resources Institute and Dr. Brian Bowker and a vacant SY position were transferred to the new Food Quality Laboratory. The name change reflected the fact that FQL was no longer doing food safety research but would instead concentrate on food quality research. In April, 2009, Drs. Wayne Jurick and Tianbao Yang joined the laboratory. Dr. Jurick, a Research Plant Pathologist, will focus his research on virulence factors important in postharvest decay and developing control strategies targeting these virulence factors. Dr. Yang, a Research Plant Physiologist, will identify, clone, and manipulate key genes regulating accumulation or loss of health-beneficial secondary metabolites in stored whole and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. Dr. Chien-Yi Wang retired in September, 2009, after 35 years of Federal Service.