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For many consumers, dietary restrictions—some self-imposed, some medical, some religious—mean that food labels can make the difference between whether a sausage  makes it into the shopping bag or not. Vegetarian, Kosher, all-beef, turkey, chicken, lamb—there are innumerable categories and combinations of meaty and meatless sausages available today. With something as pulverized and reshaped as a sausage, how can one ever know what really lurks within that casing? And is the casing actually collagen, or is it pork or sheep intestine? Until now, consumers have had no option but to trust the labels.


Recently, Clear Labs, leaders in the field of molecular food quality testing in the global food industry, introduced Clear Food, a consumer guide to food that is based on actual DNA analysis. The point is to analyze food at the molecular level with genomic analysis technology, then report the findings in a friendly format to help consumers differentiate between the quality of different top brands of commercial foods. Clear Labs has been collecting a database of food genetic markers, and believe that they have the most extensive collection in the world. Now they have tackled their first project: Hot dogs.

The results are a bit unsettling. Clear Food published an easy-to-read, informative report that starts with some facts and figures about hot dogs and sausages, describing how they are made, geographical variations, and yes, hot dog statistics.

Clear Labs, led by a team of some of the best scientists, genomicists and big data experts around, took 345 hot dog and sausage samples from 75 brands and 10 retailers, and performed high-level analyses of the contents. The results may make you want to  . . . well, lose your lunch.

In short, you may not be getting what you think you’re getting. And that goes beyond the fillers and “variety meats” we’ve all been warned about.

Upon examination, Clear Food found that 14.4 percent of the samples were adulterated with substitutions (for example, pork added to chicken and turkey hot dogs) and hygienic issues. In most cases the hygienic issues involved human DNA. Vegetarian products were particularly problematic, with 4 of 21 samples (about 20 percent) having hygienic issues. Two thirds of the vegetarian products contained human DNA, and their protein counts were sometimes padded by as much as by 250 percent. This means that when the label reports 25 grams of protein, the consumer may actually be getting only 10 grams.

The reports ends with ratings and recommendations: not surprising that they recommend known brands like Hebrew National (Kosher, of course), and Trader Joe’s received high marks for their vegetarian offerings.

As someone who has been sickened (literally) by mislabeled food, I find this to be of particular interest.

How do they test these products, and how do they calculate the results? That is at the bottom of the report, with links to more information. You can read the report here. And here’s a video that summarizes the results.

This report is only the beginning, and this type of testing could grow into something much bigger in scope. Testing for food-borne contaminants, like botulism in produce from massive commercial operations, or tainted CAFO meat, could be in the future and could save lives. Pesticide levels? The effects of chemical additives? The possibilities are intriguing.

Such thoughts certainly are a good reminder to know your farmer, and know your food. Sourcing well is extremely important, and if you can grow and make it yourself, so much the better. Mass production is no guarantee of food quality, safety and security, and we are learning that we need to turn away from the unsustainable practices behind much of what we consume today.

This testing is one important tool that can help individuals avoid the dangers of mislabeled foods, but it also has the potential to help educate consumers about what they should be eating, and how it should be produced.

I look forward to Clear Food’s next report.

~Until next time . . .