Clear Food is the consumer initiative of the analytics company to go beyond a food’s ingredient label and packaging claims to discover potential substitutions, allergens, gluten, bacterial contamination and GMOs.
The first report covers hot dogs and sausages – the firm collected 345 samples — veggie dogs, sausages, and all-beef hot dogs — from 75 different brands at 10 different retailers.
They found that 14.4% were problematic in some way, due to ingredient substitution, addition, or hygienic issues.
The hot dog report found evidence of chicken (in 10 samples), beef (in 4), turkey (in 3), and lamb (in 2) in products not supposed to contain those ingredients.
Clear Food has also launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the science and testing for the first 10 reports, with donators getting a vote towards the next food category tested.
Not exhaustive, but representative
Sasan Amini, Clear Labs CEO and co-founder, told FoodQualityNews the report is not exhaustive but it is representative.
“Our reports are thorough but not exhaustive. We’re focused on being thorough enough to ensure statistical relevance. We could spend all our time and money just sequencing hot dogs and sausages,” he said.
“We think it’s a better idea to analyze a substantial number of hot dog and sausage samples (over 350) and move onto another food or product that consumers want to know about.
“Rather than test every product that every brand offers, we test a wide enough range of products to surface interesting trends and to return solid objective results.”
The hot dog report names the top major hot dog brands, retailers and specialty and regional hot dog brands. See it here.
The biggest and most prevalent problem was substitution, said Amini.
“We found evidence of chicken, beef, turkey, and lamb in some products that were not supposed to contain those ingredients,” he said.
“Vegetarian hot dogs were especially problematic. They saw the highest incidence of hygienic issues and we found two instances of meat products in a vegetarian hot dog, which is obviously a big deal for people with religious, ethical or health concerns around eating meat.
“In our other early tests, we’ve found things like human DNA in many samples, indicating hygienic issues.
“But despite the problems what we found most interesting in our tests was the fact that there are a number of hot dog manufacturers, large and small, producing high-quality hot dogs with integrity.”
How the rating system works
The company's rating system, the Clear Score, is a representation of how closely a product's label claims match its actual molecular contents.
The higher the score, the more closely a product adheres to its label claims. Points are deducted for every discrepancy or label inaccuracy the tests reveal.
Each sample is then examined for nutrition-content accuracy, such as carbs, fat, calories, and protein.
For certain categories of foods, the Clear Score factors in off-label tests for areas such as hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, and heavy metals.
Go beyond the label
Mahni Ghorashi, co-founder of Clear Labs, told us it looks at the molecular level to go beyond the label.
“We’re giving consumers more confidence in their food-purchasing decisions by highlighting the best products, producers, and retailers in the industry based on our in-depth molecular analysis,” he said.
“We hope to give consumers a way of cutting through the noise by providing a clear and objective basis for choosing the best brands. Consumers are ready for better food and industry is under pressure to raise the bar.
“The food industry has been a black box for far too long. Food consumers have very little to go on besides packaging claims and marketing language. They have to trust that food labels are accurate, but that isn’t always the case.”
Ghorashi said it does not want to alienate industry.
“We are not a consumer watchdog organization. Our focus is on highlighting the best in the industry and giving consumers a guide to the highest quality foods based on our rating system,” he said.
“It’s true that we don’t want to alienate industry. Some brands might feel neglected by omission but we hope that will spurn improvement.
“We don’t want to have a contentious or adversarial relationship with the food industry because we want them to willingly adopt our technology. Yes, that’s in the best interest of our company. We also believe it’s in the best interest of consumers.
“We also don’t want to scare or strong-arm industry into adopting the kind of rigorous testing standards that our technology makes possible.
“We want to shift the industry to a proactive model, in which manufacturers and retailers are actively testing their food quickly and at scale to catch safety or quality issues early.”