That Burger You Just Ordered Might Come With A Side Of DNA

Even if it's a veggie burger.

12/05/2016 5:12 AM AEST | Updated 12/05/2016 5:12 AM AEST

File this under "No, thanks."

A molecular analysis on burgers conducted by food analytics company Clear Labs serves as the stomach-churning proof that we don't always know everything that's actually in the food we buy -- even if that food comes with an ingredients list. 

Clear Labs analyzed samples of 258 burgers from 79 brands and 22 retailers, including "ground meat, frozen patties, fast food burger products, and veggie burger products," and at first glance, the findings are more troubling than running out of condiments. Nearly 7 percent of products were found to contain substances not listed on labels, according to the company's new "Hamburger Report." 

Arguably the hardest finding to swallow concerns DNA. Three products showed traces of rat DNA, and one frozen vegetarian burger sample was found to contain human DNA, which the report says likely came from a portion of "hair, skin or fingernail that was accidentally mixed in."

Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs, told The Huffington Post that "while unsettling, the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] actually allows a certain percentage of contaminants like rodent feces, insect parts and even human DNA in products. The amounts we detected in our research all fell within the acceptable regulatory range as we understand them."

He also added that while the thought of these items in food is a bit sickening, it shouldn't affect your health: "We generally think of this kind of trace contamination as a hygienic issue as opposed to a public safety concern. In other words, this is not going to make you sick."

Less than two percent of products demonstrated these hygienic issues, "[suggesting] that the beef industry as a whole has benefited from stringent regulation and aggressive testing requirements," the report notes. BUT STILL.

Clear Labs

There was one case of a black bean burger with no black beans (the horror!), two instances of beef DNA found in vegetarian products, and two beef products that showed traces of pork. That last one is especially concerning, the report notes, due to "the significant numbers of consumers who do not eat pork and beef for religious reasons."

In fact, 26.3 percent of the 89 vegetarian burger options tested turned out to have discrepancies compared to their food labels, including nutritional information. This is compared to 13.6 percent of all samples, prompting the analysts to note that vegetarian products in particular demonstrated "pervasive issues in food quality and end-product consistency."

Dean Belcher via Getty Images
To quote Britney Spears: "I'm not that innocent."

Clear Labs ran a similar analysis last year about hot dogs, finding that 10 percent of tested veggie dogs contained meat and two percent also contained human DNA. The firm, which was founded in 2014 by a group of software engineers and genomic scientists, works to "set worldwide standards for food integrity," according to its website. 

While you shouldn't give up on all burgers and veggie burgers, the report is certainly eye-opening. Ghorashi told The Huffington Post what consumers can do to be more mindful.

"Continue to follow best practices when handling meat, and start paying more attention to how you're handling vegetarian products, too," he advised, adding, "We all know how to handle raw meat to avoid contamination and ensure that any lingering pathogens are killed during the cooking process. Our report suggests that consumers should apply equal rigor to their handling of vegetarian products, as well."

Head to Clear Labs to see the entire report. 

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