Commercial lab releases genomic analysis of burger products, reports hygiene and quality issues

The company Clear Labs performed a genomic analysis of 258 U.S. burger products, and reported that 13.6% of the products had problems with substitution, hygienic issues or pathogenic contamination. The findings, which were not peer-reviewed, included three detections of rat DNA and two detections of meat in vegetarian products.


Dr. Michael Doyle, Regents Professor of Food Microbiology,Director, Center for Food Safety, Department of Food Science & Technology, University of Georgia (webpage):

Expertise: bacterial food borne pathogens, methods to reduce pathogens on produce, meat, and poultry.

“Overall, I think this technology is going to be of great benefit with regard to detecting purposeful adulteration of foods or indicating the presence of ingredients not on the label that may impact human health such as allergens.

“The weakness as I see it is in the area of food borne pathogen detection. The biggest concern, and they mention this in the report, is that the method cannot differentiate between live and dead cells. Finding the DNA of Salmonella or E.coli from a dead cell is not very helpful. Secondly, the pathogens they find, such as Yersinia enterocolitica and Aeromonas hydrophila are not of common concern in foods. In terms of Clostridium perfrigens you usually need to have millions of cells in the food in order to cause illness. And its not uncommon to find low levels in meats, which contain some C. perfringens naturally. The cooking process will kill most pathogens. I think their results may be a bit misleading in that sense.

“It’s not surprising to find some rat or human DNA in foods. When there is a food handler involved you’re likely to find some form of human DNA. The FDA has set allowable limits for rat pellets in some food ingredients such as wheat because it’s impossible to remove all traces of rat DNA. It sounds gross, but you have to have to put that in perspective. It’s more of an aesthetic concern than one relevant to human health.

“I think this technology will be very useful for determining species adulteration of meats, putting beef in lieu of bison for example. This could keep the suppliers honest in terms of the product they supply. The test could also be of value in detecting allergens that are not mentioned on the label. The caveat again is that the test could be too sensitive and detect levels that are not relevant.

“Whether it is detecting pathogens, substitutions or any other contamination, the results will have to be further verified.”


Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

None declared.


The Hamburger Report‘ published by Clear Labs on Tuesday 10 May 2016

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