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 creates new way to find unwanted animal products in ground beef

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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district teachers’ union, and its counterparts from Mount Arrowsmith district, seek stricter COVID-19 rules. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union asks for stricter COVID-19 measures

Teachers ask for vaccine, more online learning, mask mandate for primary students

Red Seal Chef and Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Christina Acevedo’s new book Two Little F Words hopes to inspire readers to eat healthier diets. (Submitted photo)
Local nutritionist’s book aims to promote health through feasting, fasting, and a whole food diet

Christina Acevedo was inspired to write Two Little F Words after her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations with RV hook-ups

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Victoria police are looking for a 38-year-old man after he allegedly assaulted and choked a missing 15-year-old victim in Beacon Hill Park Tuesday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
15-year-old choked in Beacon Hill tent, Victoria police assaulted while intervening

Police searching for 38-year-old suspect, two officers injured in altercation with park residents

Canadian driver Paul Tracy pulls out of the pits during the morning session at the Molson Indy in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, July 26, 2003 (CP/Richard Lam)
Vancouver is considering hosting a Formula E race using electric cars

The race would be part of a three-day event focused on climate and sustainability

Chart from the April 20 B.C. budget shows sharp dip in real estate sales early in the COVID-19 pandemic and the even steeper climb since late 2020. (B.C. government)
Hot B.C. housing market drives property transfer tax gains

B.C. budget boosts tobacco, sweet drinks, carbon taxes

President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. to help Canada with more COVID-19 vaccine supply, Biden says

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

B.C.’s 2021 budget is trending in the right direction to support farmers, says the BC Fruit Growers’ Association. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
BC Fruit Growers’ Association gives thumbs up to provincial budget

BCFGA general manager said budgetary investments put farming industry on a good trajectory for recovery

Some Saanich firefighters have expressed concerns about first responders in the Island Health Region not being prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as an outbreak at a fire station would make service delivery a challenge. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Some Island firefighters not prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine despite working on frontlines

Saanich members express frustration, department calls on Island Health to take action

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson leaves the assembly with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Paid sick leave for ‘hard-hit’ workers left out of provincial budget: BCGEU

‘For recovery to be equitable it requires supports for workers, not just business,’ says union president Laird Cronk

Most Read