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

Gabrielle Clarke is an art therapist in Golden who works in mixed media art. Clarke’s art will be on display downtown at the Go-Lab. (Gabrielle Clarke photo)
Mixed media arts show comes to Go-Lab

Clarke’s art will be on display until Nov. 6

The view from Donald Bridge, looking east on Highway 1, about 28 km north of Golden at 11:50 a.m. Oct. 18. (DriveBC)
UPDATE: Expect delays on highway east of Revelstoke

A vehicle incident occurred near the Quartz Creek bridge

Advance voting is already underway in the 42nd general election in British Columbia. Election day is Oct. 24.(Black Press files photo)
QUIZ: Are you ready for the B.C. election?

Take this short test and see how much you know about elections and voting

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons.
MP Morrison responds to federal throne speech, pushes for rapid testing at airports

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian criticizes throne speech, wants COIVD-19 testing at borders, airports

Salmon Arm RCMP say residents have been receiving calls from fraudster claiming to be with Publishers Clearing House. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP warn of Publishers Clearing House telephone scam

Police say scammer requests fee to claim sweepstakes prizes

Osoyoos Fire Department responded to reports of a vehicle engulfed in flames Sunday (Oct. 18) evening at a Lambert Court residence. (Osoyoos Fire Department)
Osoyoos Fire Department knock down car fire near home

Blaze was ‘really close’ to becoming a structure fire

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A file photo of an RCMP dog. (Campbell River RCMP photo)
Lawsuit claims Kelowna man suffered ‘vicious’ attack by RCMP dog, handler

Fernando Verde claims he was resuscitated at the hospital and needed emergency surgery following the attack

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Most Read