2012 AGRO Award for Innovation in Chemistry of Agriculture

Sponsored by BASF Corporation

Steven LehotayDr. Steven J. Lehotay is the first receipt of the AGRO Award for Innovation in Chemistry of Agriculture. He is a Lead Scientist with USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Lehotay grew up in Orlando, Florida, and like many students there, he worked at Disney World – one of his favorite jobs ever was being a street sweeper at EPCOT.  He has bled orange and blue since his youth and earned his BS (1987) and PhD (1992) in Chemistry at the University of Florida. Since joining ARS as a post-doc in Beltsville, Maryland, Dr. Lehotay’s research has involved improving the analysis of pesticides, veterinary drugs, and other contaminants in food and environmental samples for food safety, regulatory, environmental, economic, and other beneficial purposes. He has authored/co-authored over 110 scientific articles and is the recipient of the 2011 AOAC International Harvey W. Wiley Award.

Dr. Lehotay’s most important accomplishment is the co-development with Dr. Michelangelo Anastassiades of the QuEChERS (quick, easy, cheap, effective, rugged, and safe) method for streamlined sample extraction and clean-up, which are typically significant bottle-necks and hazardous waste generators in monitoring  labs. QuEChERS reduces sample preparation labor, costs, time, space needs, and waste generation 2-10 fold over traditional methods and has been validated in more labs and for more pesticides and foods than any other residue method.

The practical benefits of QuEChERS are wide in scope. This method simplifies and improves monitoring of chemical residues in food, which leads to increased sampling of agricultural imports/exports and domestic products. Improved detection of contaminated food products encourages farmers to use registered products and good agricultural practices to ensure their products do not contain illegal residues (and potentially maximize yield/profits, too). Better farming practices are better for the environment, and fewer residues (and wider variety of foods year-round) are better for human health. Smoother international trade is better for global economic development.  QuEChERS products are being sold by at least 20 different companies.

Most recently, Dr. Lehotay developed, validated, and transferred to the USDA National Residue Program QuEChERS-based methods to screen for  over 100 veterinary drug residues in meat, poultry, and egg products. His innovation is not limited to the development of the QuEChERS approach. Other accomplishments with partners include: improvements in qualitative MS identification criteria and validation; efficient analysis of acrylamide in foods; direct sample introduction and analyte protectants for improved GC analysis; solvent-in-silicone tube extraction; development of a ChloroFiltr product; microcystins analysis in fish; monitoring of pesticides in the Chesapeake Bay; investigations of supercritical fluid extraction; and identification of new lipophilic contaminants using GCxGC/ToF analysis.