UBC creates new way to find unwanted animal products in ground beef

Technique can ID foreign species in meat and locate offal mixed in with meat of the same species

UBC has good news for anyone who’s been a little nervous about sinking their teeth into a juicy hamburger ever since horse meat was found in European beef a few years ago.

Researchers at the university have developed a new technique to identify unwanted animal products in ground beef, using a laser-equipped spectrometer and statistical analysis.

DNA testing can already identify foreign species in meat products, but it can’t locate offal, such as hearts, livers, kidneys and stomachs, mixed in with meat of the same species. UBC’s new technique can do both.

“We think this might be a way to fill the gap,” said Yaxi Hu, a PhD candidate in UBC’s faculty of land and food systems, as well as the study’s lead author.

Hu said when a food product has a low market share, there is potential for unscrupulous companies to mix it into higher-value foods. Since the consumption of offal in North America is pretty low, the students guessed it was possible that it was being used in meat.

The study doesn’t make any findings about whether this is happening, but it does lay the groundwork for future studies to test beef products from Canadian supermarkets to see if they contain offal.

Instead, Hu and fellow food science students made their own meat samples by grinding together beef and offal. They then aimed a spectrometer at the meat.

Animal products have different chemical compositions, so their molecules react to energy from the laser in different ways. The spectrometer captures images of their reactions, which are saved in a database that can be used to compare with other samples.

Hu said the instrumentation for the technique is not too complex so it could be adopted by industry and government fairly easily. They would just need a spectrometer and software that connects to a database of spectral images, she said.

“Our database … can be transferred to a lot of other places, and they can use this database to see what kind of products they have — if it’s an authentic one or an adulterated one,” she said.

The study was funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Mitacs and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

The 2013 European horse meat scandal is among the most well-known examples of food fraud. Beef products in several countries were found to contain undeclared horse meat, prompting outrage from consumers.

But Canada has not been immune to the issue. A study released earlier this year by researchers at the University of Guelph and commissioned by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently found that 20 per cent of sausages sampled from grocery stores across Canada contained meats that weren’t on the label.

Most alarming for kosher or halal consumers, seven of 27 beef sausages examined in the study were found to contain pork.

Hu said she is more concerned about safety than undeclared meat. She said she became interested in food fraud because she’s from China, where milk and infant formula was found to have been adulterated with melamine in 2008, hospitalizing more than 50,000 babies and killing six.

“I don’t want my products to be fraudulent but if it’s safe, I can sort of stand it,” she said. “But if the adulterant is something that’s not an edible animal source — for example, I know that there are people (in other countries) using rat, or dog or cat meat — that’s really disgusting to me.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Multi-vehicle crash shuts down eastbound lanes of Highway 1 at Annis Road in Chilliwack

Everyone asked to take detour at Annis Road and expect delays

First rainstorm of the season pelting the Lower Mainland

Batten down the hatches as heavy rains, wind, and some localized flooding possible

Man wanted by Abbotsford Police for domestic assault

Morgan Knull, 27, has multiple prior convictions

Irish folk supergroup Kíla set to perform on Saturday

Online concert will be available through Harrison Festival Society

Mission woman a part of new Hero Cups

Cheyenne Schulz has been working at Tim Hortons for years while also working as an outreach worker.

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

Grand jury indicts police officer in Breonna Taylor death

Officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Attorney General of Canada defends Kelowna Mountie involved in rough arrest

Tyler Russell filed a lawsuit against Const. Siggy Pietrzak in June of this year

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

Most Read