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

Just Posted

Vancouver Island woman to attempt historic swim across Juan de Fuca Strait today

Ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons to attempt to swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back

PHOTOS: Tour de Victoria takes off

1,800 cyclists took off in the Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria for a city-wide loop

Veteran Saanich councillor Vicki Sanders won’t seek re-election

‘Council is becoming more complicated,’ says Coun. Leif Wergeland

Local and international artists paint murals across Victoria

Sixteen murals are spread out across downtown Victoria as part of the ‘concrete canvas’ project

First responders, police march in funeral procession for Fredericton officers

Hundreds of officials marched in the parade, which included massed band, several police motorcycles

Five things to do in Greater Victoria this weekend

Puppy yoga, horses, cars, water guns and more make up this weekend’s list of events to see

Longtime broadcaster joins race for Saanich council

Ian Jessop says he wants to bring support to Mayor Richard Atwell around council table

Canadians react to death of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan at age 80

Nobel Peace Prize-winning former UN leader died early Saturday following a short illness

44 drownings so far this year in B.C.

Lifesaving Society urging caution to prevent deaths while on lakes, oceans and in pools

Some of B.C.’s air quality levels worse than Jodhpur, India

Okanagan, northern B.C. seeing some of the worst air quality globally

VIDEO: Ground crews keep a close eye on largest B.C. wildfire

Originally estimated to be 79,192 hectares, officials said more accurate mapping shows smaller size

Canadians believe in immigration but concerned about asylum seekers: study

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada paid for study to understand Canadian attitudes

These are the highest-paid actresses of 2018

In its list released this week Forbes said all 10 earned a total of $186 million before tax

Most Read