California lab brings high-tech scrutiny to the search for the perfect bird.
Still searching for the best bird to showcase at your Thanksgiving Day feast? You might want to check out a new report from a Silicon Valley–based lab that brings high tech to the quest for the perfect turkey.
You may be bracing for some scrutiny from your in-laws concerning your choice of holiday fare, but Clear Labs in Menlo Park, California, has given almost literal meaning to putting your food under a microscope.
Founded by a team of software engineers and genomic scientists, Clear Labs uses DNA technology to test food at a molecular level to determine whether any shenanigans are going on behind the scenes, such as unsavory contamination from—blech—human DNA, say, or some wayward pork in your turkey cold cuts. The scientists also test the nutritional content to see whether the claims on the label match what’s in the food.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, the lab tested 12 whole turkeys as well as close to 160 samples of turkey products, ranging from deli meat to turkey sausage. So how did the whole birds stack up?
Not surprisingly, the lab failed to find any substitutions or missing ingredients or any “hygienic issues.” But if you’re counting on that relatively lean roast turkey to offset your second helping of buttery mashed potatoes or sausage stuffing, beware.
“The only consistent issue we found with whole turkeys was that the nutritional information (calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein) reported on their labels did not match what we observed in our tests,” the lab reports.
The whole birds had, on average, 54 more calories per 100 g and 5.5 more grams of fat per 100 g than what their labels said.
Because Clear Labs’ business model appears to provide its services to food makers so that “the world’s most respected food brands can differentiate on quality and stand behind their value,” the company doesn’t single out the worst offenders. But it offers its top three recommendations for whole turkeys whose labels most closely matched their nutritional content. Those include
• Diestel Turkey Ranch Heidi’s Hens Organic Young Turkey
• Honeysuckle White Extra Tender & Juicy Turkey
• Safeway Frozen Young Turkey
However, Diestel, which supplies turkeys to Whole Foods, is being criticized by animal rights activists, who say they are raised in "horrific conditions."
From a nutritional standpoint, all is fine and good for Thanksgiving—but when it comes to turkey and other poultry, Americans are eating a lot of it, and we’re not roasting whole birds every week. As we’ve grown more wary of too much red meat, we’ve turned to turkey (and chicken) to make everything from burgers to sausage. According to the USDA, the average American has about 16 pounds of turkey a year, more than double what was eaten a generation ago.
Of the 158 turkey products Clear Labs tested, more than 13 percent were deemed “problematic,” suggesting that we all might want to pay a little more attention to the run-of-the-mill turkey we buy throughout the year, lending workaday sandwich meat a bit of the attention put toward choosing the right Thanksgiving gobbler.
The DNA analysis found substitute ingredients being used, ingredients that were missing altogether, and hygiene concerns. For example, 7 percent of the samples contained stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there, such as chicken, pork, or beef. (Is it any surprise this tended to be an issue with products like turkey sausage?) One (unnamed) product didn’t contain any turkey at all, while 5.5 percent of products had hygiene issues, including traces of human DNA.
“When we say human DNA, we can’t tell the precise source, only that it was trace amounts,” the lab reported. “The most likely cause is several cells of hair, skin, or fingernail that were accidentally mixed in during the manufacturing process. In truth, traces of human DNA probably end up in the food you prepare in your own kitchen all the time—it’s not harmful, but we do consider it a hygienic issue that degrades the quality of food.”
Well, there’s something to think about as you all gather round the Thanksgiving table.
Among the top 10 major turkey brands to pass Clear Labs’ scientific scrutiny with flying colors:
• Primo Taglio
• New Hope Provisions
• Eating Right
• Hillshire Farm
• Jimmy Dean
• Sara Lee
• Oscar Mayer
• Great Value (Walmart)
Other winners by category:
Best turkey breast (prepackaged, presliced): Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh Honey Smoked Turkey Breast
Best turkey burger: Jennie-O Turkey Burgers—93% Lean, 7% Fat, All White Meat
Best turkey sausage: Ball Park Smoked White Turkey Sausage