If you were a meat processor and you had a ton of extra animal organs you didn't want, what would you do? You could try to sell them, but let's face it, offal like hearts, kidneys, livers, and stomachs aren't very appetizing to consumers. A dishonest processor might grind up these cheap animal parts and mix them in with normal meat to pass it off as something else. This tactic, called food fraud, has been involved in a couple of food controversies over the past few years, most notably the discovery of horse meat in beef products in 2013.

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Scientists can use DNA techniques to find if ground meat of one animal has been mixed with parts from another animal. But, what if producers mix in cheap offal with ground meat of the same species? 

New Technique Uses Lasers

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have come up with a simple, fast way of detecting if unwanted animal parts have been mixed with ground meat. They used a technique called laser spectroscopy, which involves shining a laser at the meat. The animal products have different chemical compositions, so they absorb and reflect the light differently. A sensor takes in the readings, and produces an image that can be used as a sort of fingerprint. The researchers then compare it to a database of images collected from known samples of meat.

The technique was able to detect with 99% certainty whether ground beef had been mixed with other parts, and identify with 80% accuracy which parts in particular were used.

Quick and Simple Testing

The technique takes less than five minutes and is much faster than analyzing DNA. It's also easier to set up and use, so it doesn't require as much training. so researchers hope that it can be a useful tool for food inspectors and others in the industry.

If technologies improve, consumers might even be able to buy a device to test their meat at home one day.